Data Centers

Google wins floating data center patent

Google has been awarded a U.S. patent for its floating data centers that are powered by waves and cooled by sea water. The general idea is to move computing power closer to users; the larger question is whether Google will actually deploy these data center barges.

This is a guest post from Larry Dignan of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Larry on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Google has been awarded a U.S. patent for its floating data centers that are powered by waves and cooled by sea water.

The patent award was spotted first by SEO by the Sea. As noted previously, the floating data center idea is quite novel and makes a ton of sense. For Google these floating data centers could be a boon because there are no real estate costs or property taxes.

The offshore data centers would site 3 to 7 miles offshore and float in about 50 to 70 meters of water. 

 

According to the abstract Google was awarded a patent (7,525,207) for:

A system includes a floating platform-mounted computer data center comprising a plurality of computing units, a sea-based electrical generator in electrical connection with the plurality of computing units, and one or more sea-water cooling units for providing cooling to the plurality of computing units.

Inventors were listed as Jimmy Clidaras, David Stiver and William Hamburgen.

The general idea is to move computing power closer to users. The larger question is whether Google will actually deploy these data center barges. Rich Miller at Data Center Knowledge writes:

Does Google have any intention of actually building these floating data centers? Many in the data center community are deeply skeptical about the concept, and find it difficult to believe that Google would ever pursue such a project.

So here's the interesting precedent: In December 2003 Google applied for a patent for a portable data center in a shipping container, which was awarded in Oct. 2007. At last month's Efficient Data Center Summit, we learned that Google deployed its first container data center in the fall of 2005, less than two years after filing its patent application.

Hmmm.

43 comments
Ricky_Rock
Ricky_Rock

It actually does sound like a bright idea, but I wonder when the first of this center will appear in the Ocean.... Italian Guy

jforan
jforan

The skeptics are missing one key issue in talking about capsizing in bad weather - such a ship does not need to conform to typical boat design. Imagine a boat design that is almost spherical (or cigar-shaped), with the protruding section (208) on a rotating, gyroscopically stabilized mount able to maintain position regardless of the ship roll. Internally,all servers would be locked down so that whatever way the ship rolls, nothing comes loose (similar to how racks must be built in CA to conform to earthquake safety regs, just more-so).Crew would need to evacuate rather than ride out the storm, but that would be prudent in any case. Emergency berths with restraints could be installed in case evacuation isn't possible. While uncomfortable, crew could survive. Add in solar paneling, and wave-generated power would be greatly augmented. Yes, there are other concerns, such as a typhoon or tsunami blowing the ship aground, but these are no more or less serious than a traditional data center's needs to plan for Cat5 hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. And for those that worry about disruption of services due to weather, look at the redundancy google builds into their data centers, even down to the individual generic servers - lose a center or two and it won't be a big deal. Others will take over the load with minimal impact. Now it's true that there are some google *applications* which have had reliability issues (ahem... gmail anyone!), but not the actual data centers hosting the apps. Anyway, point is - there's no risk applicable to the idea that can't be solved with a judicious application of creative engineering.

lawrenceip
lawrenceip

Data floats my boat. Nice one Google!

nuklearkrisis
nuklearkrisis

I have experience working in a data center at the One Wilshire building in downtown Los Angeles CA. I got in there cause I love Data Centers and networking....I also happened to like Oil Rigs....Man be so cool to work on a massive floating Data Center...it would be like an Oil Rig but pumping out data instead of Oil. Be so Awesome! Hopefully I have my CCNP by the time one is built and I will be running one of those babies!

jbam49
jbam49

Google's datacenter is another leap into the endless array of human accomplishments, I feel we need to see this work and synchronize with Google's ideas.

wirl235
wirl235

The Great Lakes, the Columbia river, the Hudson, Mississippi......

dstowell
dstowell

Great - more sea-going garbage, sewage, and lane blockage... Thank you Google so very much... We have not screwed up the land enough? Why not spaced based data centers - get the junk off the planet?

civillyawp
civillyawp

Readers of Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson will recognize the possibilities inherent in this patent to set up a "data haven" in international waters. Is this a fancy or the next step in the de-nationalization of the Web? Amram Shapiro (Book of Odds)

dallascaley
dallascaley

I think the most interesting thing here is possibly the prospect of a new haven for peer-to-peer file sharing companies (ie, Pirate Bay) What will they do when the data center is in international waters?

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

The idea of no real estate, taxes, etc sounds cool. If we had a cheap way to convert sea water to drinking water we could all move out 5 miles from shore. There used to be a saying about avoiding taxes. I suspect someone will come up with the idea of charging an import tax on the data where it hooks up with the land. How does moving data centers offshore bring computing power closer to the users?

Josh The Geek
Josh The Geek

How does that hold up in International waters?

JimInPA
JimInPA

What is the point exactly? Are major corporation supposed to be interested in these? Is this just something Google is going to do for its own purposes? If major corps are going to use these are they going to outsource their data operations or attempt to staff these floating data centers? How will the data flow back and forth? Fiber? Satellite? Seems like a lot of money wasted on a concept that will likely flop. IMO FWIW.

rehabsw@abilitiesfirstny.
rehabsw@abilitiesfirstny.

Every watt extracted from the sea is going to turn into heat being dumped back into the ocean. I hope an environmental impact study figures out the effect of these point sources of heat on accelerating the effects of thermal pollution of the oceans.

Craig_B
Craig_B

This sounds like an interesting concept and could be used in certain circumstances. How do you transfer data to/from it? What about maintenance costs? How would you like your next support call to be out at sea? What about physical security?

seanferd
seanferd

I wondered what happened with that. Now they need to get some serious work in on their moon base.

patrick_mullen
patrick_mullen

Wait until they figure out the costs for cleaning the barnicles from the cooling system!

indra.kusuma
indra.kusuma

I just want to know what happen if the tsunami hit

rajendhran
rajendhran

This is really a good idea, but during deployment, it may attract protest from environmentalists. Apart from everything, they have to protect the assets from terrorist attacks... really this may be a big threat. The terrorists may not be using weapons, but the groups may contain some hackers, break into the systems and try to destroy the entire deployment silently. In land, threat may come from only five sides (North, South, East, West and Top), but at the sea, there is one more dimenstion: FROM BOTTOM!

SKDTech
SKDTech

I love this concept, but I think a more stable platform such as refitting depleted drilling platforms may make more sense.

rajendhran
rajendhran

Google can save a substantial amount of taxes and real estate. Since they are not paying any taxes, WHICH GOVERNMENT is responsible for the security of their infrastructure? Pirates may hijack, terrorists may have easy access....

martius.mesquita
martius.mesquita

No matter where a data center is placed, communication links is what makes then useful.

robo_dev
robo_dev

I can just see some pirate with an AK-47 threatening to dump their servers overboard if the ransom is not paid. So the ability to not get seasick is going to be a skill needed by IT professionals?

robo_dev
robo_dev

Just like the 'data center on a truck' concept, they could have 'data center on a boat', so when some Volcano erupts and levels Manhattan, they can anchor the new data center in NY harbor. Also, they plan to use wave power for electricity and sea water for cooling. Personally I think it's a cunning plan to: a) take over the world (Google Navy) b) avoid taxes (taxes too high in England, anchor the data center in Bermuda)

Josh The Geek
Josh The Geek

Sometimes the point of getting a patent is just to own the patent. Now if anyone wants to do something similar to this, the patent is worded vaguely enough that they would have to pay Google. Lets say, perhaps, that a sea based business unit, such as freighters or cruise ships, wants to install a data center and use sea water to cool it or water flow to power it. They would need to pay Google to do so.

Realvdude
Realvdude

Look at nuclear (and other) power plants that cool with lake or ocean water. On the Great Lakes they found that fish thrive within a few miles out from the exchangers. Also data centers that would be replaced or not built because of these data centers would be heating the air instead or water.

Sensei Humor
Sensei Humor

Look at the amount of "greenhouse gasses" dumped into the atmosphere every year. The human contribution to this is less than 1/3 of 1%. I'm willing to bet that the annual deviation from the 100 year average is more than 10 times that amount. When human thermal contribution to oceanic warming is greater than 5% of natural causes (and 5% is dramatically larger than the natural deviation from the average temperature) I'll say we need to look into this further. So how many of these floating data centers would it take to even show up on a chart when compared to natural processes such as vulcanism?

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

Although I'm not on-board (no pun intended) with this idea (I think it's a solution in search of a problem), I hardly think the small amount of heat transfer is going to be a real problem. The oceans (and th e life in it) can handle it. The earth is not as fragile as Al Gore wants everyone to believe.

cory.schultze
cory.schultze

All well and good, but the center needs to be manned by a number of specialists: Armed guards, Network technician, Nautical engineer, Medic, Project Foreman, Etc. Additionally, these staff would need to be fed, cleaned, clothed, etc., so supplies would need to be shipped over or flown by helicopter. If the platform is unmanned and has tight-enough security to resist a sabotage, then in the event of a malfunction or damage caused from severe weather or an attack from pirates, a team of specialists would need to be sent-out. So that said, and with the initial cost of the platform, project development, testing, (and the repetition of this, as it never goes right first time), prototypes, labour and the man-power required to sustain the operation of the platform, is it really worth the pennies saved by a bit of electricity? Setting an environmentally responsible example though...

vinod.gre
vinod.gre

i think tsunami is a threat only when you are near a shore not when you are on sea

terjeb
terjeb

Nothing much would happen if there was a Tsunami. Tsunamis in deep water are non-events. People on the boat would probably not even notice.

speculatrix
speculatrix

surely if they're literally off-shoring facilities to escape national regulations, then patents aren't valid off-shore either so anyone else can do it!

rph
rph

"natural processes such as vulcanism?" It's not the natural occurances that are producing Clobal Warming, the earth will take care of it self. The problem is the Extras that mankind is providing. It's the extra CO2, garbage/polution that mankind adds to the enviroment that is causing "Global Warming". Like Al Gore I would rather err on the side of caution.

robo_dev
robo_dev

Just teach the data center people to fish and wash their clothes on deck...it's not like most system admins are that fashion-conscious anyway. :) There's a whole raft (pun intended) of potential benefits from a tax, legal, and regulatory perspective. A land-based data center in the US, for example, pays many different taxes, plus must comply with literally hundreds of laws and regulations on everything from the height of the drinking fountain to how many pounds of lead are in the battery room. Not to mention that the workers must be citizens or legal aliens, and must commute to work every morning. Data center employees won't be late for work, ever. If you're on a data center in international waters, whose laws do you need to obey? If you get fired from a floating data center, do you have to walk the plank? :)

Josh The Geek
Josh The Geek

Hurricanes? Pirates? Terrorists? Icebergs? Jaws?

rgc14
rgc14

You're not understanding the intent of the patent is "Closer to users" not in the middle of the ocean. Remember Indonesia? Any way one strategically placed IED or torpedo will give new meaning to "Synch'ing" the data.

jaybobert
jaybobert

Like it did during the last ice age? Cycles people, cycles...

RipVan
RipVan

I LOVE the "extras that mankind is providing" as the boogeyman that we all must fear! There is NOTHING EXTRA that CAUSES the alleged global warming. The only "EXTRA" is fear produced by Al Gore and a LOT of weak minded individuals. However, you line Al's pocket, so he won't be reducing his carbon footprint anytime soon. This is such a moneymaker for him, that he will err HEAVILY on the side of "caution" (LOL!) and insist that the panty waisted among us do the same. (It's a simple Jedi mind trick!!)

ted
ted

Their design uses the water flow as, in effect, their electricity. So, by moving, you change the dynamics. Additionally, they didn't not indicate, from my recollection, how the achieved data transmission. Are there static data lines going from shore to the vessel? Finally, there are storms, as violent as hurricanes, off the California, Oregon, Washington coast. And, if the concept is to put these vessels close to where the data is used, how would a ship off the California coast benefit someone in Mississippi? All in all, this is an idea worthy only of a cheap Sci-Fi novel.

lordgoldneyes00
lordgoldneyes00

Why would you be worried about hurricanes, it wouldn't stop them from building data centers near the gulf coast where there is the same chance of a hurricane. Maybe they will just be smart and put their boats off of Washington, northern California, etc. where the hurricane threat is low.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Why not just remotely drive the ship into calm waters.

ted
ted

From Wisconsin got it right. What about Hurricanes? Which, happen in all waters. Maybe by different names (Cyclones, Nor'Easters, etc), but the do occur everywhere. So what do you do? What DO you do?

Editor's Picks