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Google's Space Oddity

There's more to Google's NASA deal than moon rocks and little green men

1:50 PM -- As a keen Google-watcher, I was intrigued when I heard that the company had partnered with NASA yesterday. The deal provides some hints about the secretive search giant's long-term strategy. (See NASA.)

On a conference call yesterday Pete Worden, director of the NASA Ames Research Center, got a bit carried away when talking about how space agency data could be used in Mars and moon-based versions of the search giant's Google Earth offering. "People will be able to feel the crunch of Martian soil under their feet," he gushed, adding that NASA wants to make its data "as useful and accessible to everyone as possible."

These are noble sentiments, but I suspect that there is more to this deal than images of moon rocks and red sand. Both organizations, after all, have assets that the other desperately needs. NASA, for its part, has a truckload of unique content from its space missions, not to mention masses of atmospheric data. This type of information is critical to Google as it attempts to build on the success of Web-based portals such as Google Earth.

What NASA lacks, though, is unlimited technology resources. (See NASA Upgrades Supercomputer and SGI, Intel Build NASA Supercomputer.) Unlike Google, the space agency is subject to federal budgets, so a deal like this gives scientists access to the search giant's reputedly enormous pools of servers and storage. (See Google Groans Under Data Strain.)

Long-term, I think we are likely to see more agreements like this from Google. Many parts of the government, for example, are bracing themselves for increasing congressional oversight and budget pressure through the next federal budget cycle. (See Defense Budgets Under Scrutiny.) Why not turn to Google to for the extra Tbytes you need for that data warehousing project?

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