This is a guest post from Larry Dignan. You can read the original article on Larry’s blog Between the Lines on TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet.

Google is pondering a floating data center that could be powered and cooled by the ocean. These offshore data centers could sit 3 to 7 miles offshore and reside in about 50 to 70 meters of water.

googledata1.pngThe search giant filed for a patent in February that was approved Aug. 28. The patent outlines a concept that would not only be savvy engineering, but deliver great returns. Rich Miller at Data Center Knowledge called Google’s patent a “startling new take on data center engineering.” I’d call it brilliant engineering, but the financial engineering could be even more impressive.

To wit:

  • Google could power these data center pontoons with wind potentially and cool them with water. You could argue that these ocean data centers could be self sustaining.
  • Property taxes? There’s no property.
  • State negotiations and building rights? Launching these data centers may require a lot less red tape.

Google points out the painfully obvious for anyone in the data center business: “It can be expensive to build and locate data centers, and it is not always easy to find access to necessary (and inexpensive) electrical power, high-bandwidth data connections, and cooling water for such data centers.”

Google’s idea for offshore data centers isn’t necessarily new. A company called IDS has plans to build data centers on cargo ships, but these would be tethered to a pier. Google is talking about a self-contained unit (excluding bandwidth connections) that would sit offshore much like an oil rig.

Also see: To Boldly Go Where No Search Engine Has Gone Before

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As Miller points out Google’s idea uses the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter units to create a wave farm Google reckons that it can cobble together enough units to create about 40 megawatts of power. Seawater would cool these data centers.

A few highlights:

Google says:

In one implementation, a system is disclosed that comprises a floating platform-mounted computer data center comprising a plurality of computing units, a sea-powered 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. The computing units may be mounted in a plurality of crane-removable modules. The sea-powered electrical generator may comprise a wave-powered generator system, and may further include a plurality of motion-powered machines arranged in a grid and wired together. The wave-powered electrical generator system may likewise comprise one or more Pelamis machines.

In English, Google is planning data centers powered by wave farms.

Google says:

In some aspects, the sea-powered electrical generator may comprise a tide-powered generator system. Also, the cooling units of the system may comprise a plurality of sea-powered pumps and one or more seawater-to-freshwater heat exchangers. In addition, the sea-water cooling units may comprise one or more water-to-water heat exchangers. Moreover, the system may further comprise one or more rectifiers for producing direct current supply power from power supplied by the electrical generator, and the rectifiers may provide power directly to components in the plurality of computing units without further AC-to-DC or DC-to-AC conversion. A plurality of step-down transformers may also be provided to convert the direct current power to a voltage usable by the components in the plurality of computing units.

Although these offshore data centers will obviously need grid infrastructure not to mention undersea cables Google’s power requirements could largely be self sustaining.

Google continues along that self sustaining theme:

In another implementation, a method of maintaining agoogledata4.png computer data center is disclosed, and comprises generating electrical power using the wave, tidal, or current motion of water adjacent a data center, providing the generated electrical power to the data center, and circulating the water adjacent the data center through a heat exchanger to produce cooling for the data center equipment. The electrical power may be generated by the force of a floating device against moving waves. Also, the data center equipment may comprise a large plurality of computer boards mounted in rack arrays.

Meanwhile, Google describes deployments that could scale easily. These data centers would be modular, constructed on land in standard shipping containers, hauled via truck to ships and then deployed. The ship carrying these data centers could anchor where “tidal motion is sufficiently strong or large so as to permit electrical generation and pumping power.”

Pontoons would be connected together to form an ocean network of sorts that would generate electricity and harvest wave energy.

These modules could be swapped as technology advances or units wear out “under adverse sea conditions.”

Google added that its patent on offshore data centers is really the beginning.

Although much of the discussion here has centered around wave-powered machines, other power mechanisms, such as wind power (e.g., from sea-based wind generator farms) and river current power may also be used. Also, although several applications of the systems and methods have been described, it should be recognized that numerous other applications are contemplated.

Now wild-cards abound. Jurisdiction issues will occur. Are states really going to allow Google or anyone else place these pontoons offshore without some tax hit? And the logistics of making this rollout happen are daunting. However, Google has the capital to make it work. More importantly, Google’s ocean data center model can scale. Once the first efforts are deployed best practices will emerge quickly.