Google Used Auction Model to Allocate Internal Resources

(p. 202) Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, would later explain how it worked when new data centers open: “We’ll build a nice new data center and say, ‘Hey, Google Docs, would you move your machines over here?’ And they say, ‘Sure, next month.’ Because nobody wants to go through the disruption of shifting. So I suggested we run an auction similar to what airlines do when they oversell a plane– they keep offering bigger vouchers until enough customers are willing to give up their seats. In our case, we offer more machines in exchange for moving. One group might do it for fifty new ones, another for a hundred, and another won’t move unless we give them three hundred. So we give them to the lowest bidder– they get their extra capacity, and we get computation shifted to the new data center.”
Google eventually devised an elaborate auction model for divvying up existing resources. In a paper entitled “Using a Market Economy to Provision Computer Resources Across Planet-wide Clusters,” a group of Google engineers, along with a Stanford professor of management science and engineering, reported a project that essentially made Google’s
computational resources into a silicon Wall Street. Supply and demand worked here not to fix stock prices but to place a value on resources. The system not only allowed projects at Google to get fair access to storage and computational cycles but identified shortages in computers, storage, and bandwidth. Instead of the Vickery auction used by AdWords, the system used an “ascending clock auction.” At the beginning, the current price of each resource would be displayed, and Google engineers in competing projects could claim them at that price. The ideal outcome would ensure sufficient resources for everyone, in which case the auction stopped. Otherwise, the automated auctioneer would raise the prices for the next “time slot,” and (p. 203) remaining competitors for those resources had to decide whether to bid higher. And so on, until the engineers not willing to stake their budgets on the most contested resources dropped out. “Hence,” write the paper’s authors, “the auction allows users to ‘discover’ prices in which all users pay/ receive payment in proportion to uniform resource prices.”

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Sound Economic Policies Benefit Africa More than Sachs’ Profligate Interventions

TheIdealistBK2013-10-22.jpg

Source of book image: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2013-09-02-TheIdealist.jpg

(p. A19) Nina Munk’s new book, “The Idealist,” is about the well-known economist Jeffrey Sachs and his “quest to end poverty,” as the subtitle puts it.
. . .
The quest began in 2005, when Sachs, who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, started an ambitious program called the Millennium Villages Project. He and his team chose a handful of sub-Saharan African villages, where they imposed a series of “interventions” in such areas as agriculture, health and education.
. . .
With almost every intervention, she documents the chasm that exists between the villagers and those running the project. At one point, the Millennium Villages Project persuades the farmers in Ruhiira to grow maize instead of their traditional crop, called matoke. “The results were fantastic,” she reports, a bumper crop. Except there were no buyers for the maize, so some of it wound up being eaten by rats. In Dertu, Sachs’s staff decided it should set up a livestock market. It flopped. Efforts to convince villagers to start small businesses largely failed. The critical problem of getting clean water to the villages was enormously expensive.
Ultimately, reports Munk, Dertu was scaled back by the Millennium Villages Project while Ruhiira is today lauded as one of the project’s most successful villages. “There is no question the lives of people in Ruhiira have been improved,” Munk told me. “I’ve seen it.” But she is dubious about what that means — other than the fact that if you pump millions of dollars into an isolated African village, the villagers’ lives will be better.
. . .
That things in Africa are getting better is undeniable. Child mortality is down, as is the number of people living in extreme poverty. In his book, “Emerging Africa,” Steve Radelet, the former chief economist for the United States Agency for International Development, gives credit to such factors as more democratic governments, a new class of civil servants and businesspeople, and sounder economic policies. Sachs wants us to believe that the Millennium Villages Project has also helped show the way.
“The Idealist” makes it tough to believe it’s the latter.

For the full review, see:
JOE NOCERA. “Fighting Poverty, and Critics.” The New York Times (Tues., September 3, 2013): A19.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 2, 2013.)

The book under review is:
Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013.

The Radelet book mentioned is:
Radelet, Steven. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way. pb ed. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2010.