Inside the cathedrals of the information age: Google reveals the secret data centres that power the web

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They are the cathedrals of the information age - with the colour scheme of an adventure playground.

For the first time, Google has allowed cameras into its high security data centres - the beating hearts of its global network that allow the web giant to process 3 billion internet searches every day.

Only a small band of Google employees have ever been inside the doors of the data centres, which are hidden away in remote parts of North America, Belgium and Finland.

Their workplaces glow with the blinking lights of LEDs on internet servers reassuring technicians that all is well with the web, and hum to the sound of hundreds of giant fans and thousands of gallons of water, that stop the whole thing overheating.

"Very few people have stepped inside Google's data centers [sic], and for good reason: our first priority is the privacy and security of your data, and we go to great lengths to protect it, keeping our sites under close guard," the company said yesterday. Row upon row of glowing servers send and receive information from 20 billion web pages every day, while towering libraries store all the data that Google has ever processed - in case of a system failure.

With data speeds 200,000 times faster than an ordinary home internet connection, Google's centres in America can share huge amounts of information with European counterparts like the remote, snow-packed Hamina centre in Finland, in the blink of an eye.

The Google story began only 14 years ago as a university experiment with a few off-the-shelf servers. Now a multi-billion dollar company commanding huge advertising revenues and with unprecedented power over the way we use the internet, the company still appears to run on a hipster mentality.

Employees navigate vast data storage warehouses on technicolour G-bikes, the company revealed, while at the Oregon data centre, staff spend their hours between data analysis "hiking, fishing and wind surfing".

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