The price of being webscale: Google spent $2.35B on infrastructure in Q1

Google announced its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, which included — as usual the past few quarters — an unparalleled amount of spending on data centers. The company spent $2.35 billion on infrastructure in the first quarter (much of which goes to building and filling data centers), up from $2.26 billion in last year’s fourth quarter and nearly double the $1.2 billion it spent in the first quarter of 2013.
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We have been following Google’s (s goog) spending for years, because it’s such a good example of how much money web companies need to spend on infrastructure if they want to achieve massive scale in terms of users, services and data. Just think about Google’s products — search, cloud computing, Maps, Drive, Gmail, Google+ and more — and consider how many servers it takes to run them and ensure there’s enough capacity to scale them, handle failures or just experiment with new stuff. Inadequate infrastructure (in terms of both hardware and software) means a poorer user experience and less room to innovate.
That’s why Microsoft (s msft) spends so much on infrastructure, too, and why Facebook (s fb)is ramping up its spending. In Microsoft’s latest earnings report (announced on Jan. 23, for its fiscal second quarter), the company reported it spent $1.73 billion on infrastructure.
Here’s what Google Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette had to say on Wednesday’s earnings call, according to a transcript published by research firm Morningstar:

As it relates to CapEx, listen, you’re right, that we – and I’ve mentioned this in the last couple of quarters, where we have – and just a reminder to everybody, right, if you think of the CapEx categories, right, data centers first and data center construction, then production equipment, then all other facilities is kind of like the hierarchy of needs. In the case of data center construction, we have found that the option value of having more capacity on standby and available to us to grow versus not having it is actually a real strategic issue for the Company. In that sense, if for whatever reason, we had a spike in demand that was really pronounced and sustained for a couple of quarters and we did not have the capacity, it would be a real issue strategically for us relative to the quite low cost of having the infrastructure in place. So that’s why we’re really pushing ahead of the curve, and so it’s with this view of long-term. So, from that perspective, you’re also right that, that’s the mindset we’re applying. And we’ve always said that CapEx was lumpy, so you have a good manifestation of it right now right here.