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Pioneer of Google’s Data Centers Dies at 59

IEEE also remembers the lives and legacies of other members

6 min read
Photo of a smiling man in a blue sweatshirt

Luiz André Barroso, who was an engineer at Google for more than 20 years, is credited with designing the company’s warehouse-size data centers.


Luiz André Barroso

Data center pioneer

Senior member, 59; died 16 September

An engineer at Google for more than 20 years, Barroso is credited with designing the company’s warehouse-size data centers. They house hundreds of thousands of computer servers and disk drives and have brought cloud computing, more powerful search engines, and faster Internet service. He died unexpectedly of natural causes.

Barroso was born in Brazil and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1989 in electrical engineering from Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he earned a Ph.D. in computer engineering in 1996 from the University of Southern California.

In 1995 he joined the Digital Equipment Corp. Western Research Laboratory, in Palo Alto, Calif., as a researcher specializing in microprocessor design. While there, he investigated how to build hardware to run more modern business applications and Web services. Three years later, the company was acquired by Compaq and his project was terminated.

He left Compaq in 2001 to join Google in Mountain View, Calif., as a software engineer.

The company housed its servers at leased space in third-party data centers, which were basically cages in which a few racks of computing equipment were placed. As Google’s business expanded, its need for infrastructure increased. In 2004 Barroso was tasked with investigating ways to build more efficient data centers.

He devised a way to use low-cost components and energy-saving techniques to distribute Google’s programs across thousands of servers, instead of the traditional method of relying on a few powerful, expensive machines.

The company’s first data center designed by Barroso opened in 2006 in The Dalles, Ore. It implemented fault-tolerance software and hardware infrastructure to make the servers less prone to disruption. Google now has 35 data centers in 10 countries, all drawing from Barroso’s groundbreaking techniques.

In 2009 Barroso co-authored The Data Center as a Computer: An Introduction to the Design of Warehouse-Scale Machines, a seminal textbook.

He also led the team that designed Google’s AI chips, known as tensor processing units or TPUs, which accelerated machine-learning workloads. He helped integrate augmented reality and machine learning into Google Maps.

At the time of his death, Barroso was a Google Fellow, the company’s highest rank for technical staff.

He also was an executive sponsor of the company’s Hispanic and Latinx employee group and oversaw a program that awarded fellowships to doctoral students in Latin America.

For his contributions to computing architecture, he received the 2020 Eckert-Mauchly Award, an honor given jointly by IEEE and the Association for Computer Machinery.

He was a Fellow of the ACM and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He served on the board of Rainforest Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting tropical lands and conserving threatened wildlife. Just weeks before he died, Barroso organized and led a weeklong trip to Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands.

Read The Institute’s 2020 profile of him to learn more about his career journey.

Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao

Former director of the Indian Statistical Institute

Honorary member, 102; died 23 August

Rao was onetime director of the Indian Statistical Institute, in Kolkata. The pioneering mathematician and statistician spent more than four decades at the organization, where he discovered two seminal estimators: the Cramér–Rao bound and the Rao–Blackwell theorem. The two estimators—rules for calculating an estimate of a given quantity based on observed data—provided the basis for much of modern statistics.

For his discoveries, Rao received the 2023 International Prize in Statistics. The award is presented every two years to an individual or team for “major achievements using statistics to advance science, technology, and human welfare.”

Rao began his career in 1943 as a technical apprentice at the Indian Statistical Institute. He was promoted the following year to superintending statistician. Two years later, he published a paper in the Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, demonstrating two fundamental statistical concepts still heavily used in the field today. The Cramér-Rao bound helps statisticians determine the quality of any estimation method. The Rao-Blackwell theorem provides a means for optimizing estimates.

Rao’s work formed the basis of information geometry, an interdisciplinary field that applies the techniques of differential geometry to study probability theory and statistics.

Rao was a professor at the ISI’s research and training school before being promoted to director in 1964—a position he held for 12 years.

He moved to the United States in the 1980s to join the University of Pittsburgh as a professor of mathematics and statistics. He left Pittsburgh eight years later to teach at Pennsylvania State University in State College, where in 2001 he became director of its multivariate analysis center. Multivariate statistics are data analysis procedures that simultaneously consider more than two variables.

After nine years at Penn State he moved to New York, where he was a research professor at the University of Buffalo until shortly before he died.

Rao authored more than 14 books and 400 journal articles during his career. He received several awards for his lifetime contributions, including 38 honorary doctoral degrees from universities in 19 countries.

In 2010 he was honored with the India Science Award, the highest honor given by the government of India in the scientific sector. He received the 2002 U.S. National Medal of Science, the country’s highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research.

He was nominated in 2013 for a Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the International Encyclopedia of Statistical Science. Last year he was named an honorary member of IEEE.

Rao received a master’s degree in mathematics in 1940 from Andhra University, in Visakhapatnam. Three years later he earned a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Calcutta. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in statistics from King’s College Cambridge in 1945 and a doctor of science degree from the University of Cambridge in 1965.

Herbert William Zwack

Former U.S. Naval Research Laboratory associate superintendent

Life member, 88; died 14 March

Zwack led electronic warfare research programs at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington, D.C., where he worked for more than two decades.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1955 from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now the New York University Tandon School of Engineering), in New York City, he joined Hazeltine (now BAE Systems). At the defense electronics company, located in Greenlawn, N.Y., he helped develop the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), the first U.S. air defense system. He also created the Mark XII IFF, a radar system designed to detect enemy aircraft.

In 1958 he left to join Airborne Instruments Laboratory, a defense contractor in Mineola, N.Y. At AIL, he was involved in electronic warfare systems R&D. He later was promoted to head of the analysis receiver department, and he led the development of UHF and microwave intercept analysis receivers for the U.S. Army.

He accepted a new position in 1970 as head of the advanced development department in the Amecom Division of Litton Industries, a defense contractor in College Park, Md. He helped develop technology at Litton to intercept and analyze radar signals, including the AN/ALR-59 (later the AN/ALR-73) passive detection system for the U.S. Navy E-2 Hawkeye aircraft.

Two years later he left to join the Tactical Electronic Warfare Division of the Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington, D.C., as head of its remote-sensor department. He was responsible for hiring new technical staff and securing research funding.

By 1974, he was promoted to head of the laboratory’s electronic warfare systems branch, leading research in areas including advanced miniature antenna and receiver programs, intelligence collection and processing systems, and high-speed signal sorting.

In 1987 he was promoted to associate superintendent of the Tactical Electronic Warfare Division, a position he held until he retired in 1995.

Randall W. Pack

Nuclear and computer engineer

Life member, 82; died 2 December 2022

Pack was a nuclear power engineer until the late 1990s, when he shifted his focus to computer engineering.

He served in the U.S. Navy for eight years after receiving a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1961 from Vanderbilt University, in Nashville. During his service, he studied at the U.S. Naval Nuclear Power Training Command, in Bainbridge, Md., and the U.S. Naval Submarine School, in Groton, Conn. After completing his studies in 1964, he served as chief engineer on two Navy nuclear submarines including the USS Sam Rayburn.

He left the Navy and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in nuclear engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1974 he joined the Electric Power Research Institute, in Palo Alto, Calif., as a technical expert in nuclear reactor design, testing, operations, maintenance, instrumentation, and safety.

In 1980 he began work as a researcher at the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, in Atlanta. Seven years later he joined the General Physics Corp. (now GP Strategies), in Columbia, Md., where he worked for 10 years.

Park decided to switch careers and at night took graduate courses at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. After graduating in 1997 with a master’s degree in computer science, he left General Physics and became a computer science consultant. He retired in 2008.

From 2008 to 2022, he served as an adjunct professor at Anne Arundel Community College, in Arnold, Md., where he taught courses for the school’s Peer Learning Partnership, an enrichment program for older adults.
The Conversation (1)
Jose Silva
Jose Silva21 Nov, 2023

RIP, Mr. Barroso. 🙏