Google's Data Center Barges

September 7th, 2008 by · 6 Comments

Over on Data Center Knowledge there is a nice article detailing Google’s plans for datacenters floating out at sea.   The speculation is based on a patent for a water-based datacenter that Google just updated in the last week or two.  I have to say, the idea is really, really fascinating.  Here are some thoughts:

Wow is that ever cool:

  • You don’t need to actually generate power for cooling, all you need to do is exchange the heat.  So these ships would be sucking in cool seawater and spitting out warm seawater.
  • You can use wave power to generate the watts you need to run the servers themselves.  Hence the only carbon footprint these things have comes from the diesel engines moving the boat.
  • Maintenance means taking a shipping container that needs fixing off with a crane, and replacing it with a good one.  It’s very industrial, but very elegant.

But are they insane?

  • Who is going to man these things?  Are techs going to have to put ‘insensitivity to motion sickness’ on their resumes?   Are they going to commute by helicopter?  Or are they going to sleep in hammocks?  Wait, they might actually like that part…
  • When you have to come into shore for maintenance or avoid a hurricane, does the entire barge/datacenter have to go offline for days?  Seems like these things would need an undersea cable for connectivity, so the moment you move it it goes offline, yes?
  • If floating datacenter barges become a key part of our national data infrastructure, don’t they become a juicy target?  How does one defend something like this against a rather low tech weapon like a torpedo or a suicide speedboater (e.g. USS Cole)?

But you know, I really want to see one of these things built, just to see the idea put into practice.  I think we’d learn so much just by trying.  Even technology spinoffs from a failed effort might make it worthwhile, we really don’t use the ocean effectively.  And they don’t have to be just out to sea, seems like Lake Superior might work too, or who knows, even big paddleboats on the Mississippi!  Ok, that one was a bit looney, but what do readers think?  Is this idea going to, errrr, float?

And to any readers who spend time in land-based datacenters, would you relish the chance to work on one of these?

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Categories: Datacenter

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6 Comments So Far

  • Frank A. Coluccio says:

    During the late 80s the idea of hosting a data center recovery site on a barge was floated, I guess you might say, receiving more than just a modicum of attention. Of course, it didn’t go anywhere at the time. The concept was resurrected shortly following WTC No. 1, but soon followed the usual trajectory of the “denial curve”, a phenomenon that follows disasters, which I’ve described here in the past.

    The use of barges in the waters surrounding NY City gained acceptance during that era as a hospital triage center and as an overflow jail. Today, I believe, a hospital barge for prisoners still functions as a facility moored off Riker’s Island, where the city’s largest detention center sits.

    Of course, merely suggesting the use of the harbor as a venue for hosting a barge upon which a data center operation would be built, is telling enough about the naiveté and innocence of the times in respect of what eventually followed.

    Among the entities that considered the barge idea were a couple of the most prestigious brokerage firms on the street. After the first bombing even the stock exchanges considered the possibility (for lack of _any_ data center and floor operations restoration capabilities at all, at the time), which only now, fifteen years later (in four days it will be fully seven years following WTC II), is now in the process of building another brick and mortar site outside the city limits.

  • Alfred J. Beljan says:

    humans are a very adaptable species and have spent long periods of time in unpleasant and inhospital places such as Thule, Greenland (some 400 miles from the North Pole) where the US had listening and intelligence personnel for many decades who stayed for 9 to 12 months at a stretch without too much difficulty.

    are not our nuclear submarines touring the world for a year or so at a time without resurfacing?

    amazing what workers will do for a good job providing interesting work plus “tax-free” good “hazardous” duty pay.

    PS: the navy pay is not tax-free….

  • This sounds like a Neal Stephenson novel plot element.

    Why not just build the datacenter next to a river, like Nuclear power plant?

  • Rob Powell says:

    What, in a flood plain? LOL 🙂

    I think part of the idea is to use wave energy as well as the cooling water, to do the same on a river you would have to build a dam or run a great big paddlewheel… Maybe though the datacenter itself should be underwater on the ocean floor, you know like in a Bond movie – that way it’s not prone to hurricanes!

    As for Neal Stephenson, I would not be the least bit surprised to see a floating datacenter crop up in whatever he’s currently working on. It would’ve worked really well in Snow Crash though out on the Raft.

  • floatinghat says:

    They already have data centers near rivers and don’t use the cooling of self generation of power from those locations to the best of my knowledge (they didn’t at inception). That said I think this would be pretty cool. One question, what law would apply (Google Nation) ?

  • Frank A. Coluccio says:

    re: “Why not just build the datacenter next to a river, like Nuclear power plant?”

    See: Tidal Turbines Help Light Up Manhattan
    By Peter Fairley | Monday, April 23, 2007

    Turbines are being submerged in the East River to generate electricity from rapid tidal currents.

    Better yet, see this what’s-new-is-old-again piece, taking special note of its date:


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