Is Google's ocean powered data center finally setting sail?

by Visitor mmerlo18 ‎10-30-2013 05:28 PM - edited ‎11-07-2013 12:31 PM

Recently, there has been a great deal of speculation into two mysterious structures built on barges located off the east and west coasts of the United States. Allegedly, these structures belong to Google but the company has declined to comment on any details.  One theory is that these structures will be used as a floating retail stores for Google products, however most believe these barges will be hosting data centers at sea – a concept which Google patented in 2009. 

 

In 2009, Google was granted a “water-based data center” patent which would utilize seawater as its primary power source and cooling method. Tide-powered generators would capture energy via wave motion while sea-powered pumps and “seawater-to-freshwater heat exchangers” would be used for cooling.

 

According to Google, their water-based data center would be capable of producing plenty of wave energy at a distance of 3 to 7 miles offshore and in 50 to 70 meters of water. The wave energy machines, which are approximately 11 feet in diameter and approximately 492 feet long, can connect end-to-end to form a farm of machines. Each machine is able to generate approximately 750 kilowatts of power and approximately 40 machines spread over a square kilometer could produce around 30 megawatts of power.  

 

What are the advantages of building on the water?

 

In their patent application, Google states the following:

"A military presence may be needed in an area, a natural disaster may bring a need for computing or telecommunication presence in an area until the natural infrastructure can be repaired or rebuilt, and certain events may draw thousands of people who may put a load on the local computing infrastructure. Often, such transient events occur near water, such as a river or an ocean. However, 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." (Click here to view the United States Patent for Google's Water-based Data Center)

 

Another advantage is the energy savings incurred by powering the servers with wave energy and cooling the servers with sea water rather than traditional air conditioners.

 

What’s the catch?

 

While there are numerous advantages to Google’s water-based data center, they may not necessarily outweigh the risks. Storms and other natural disasters are inevitable and it’s common knowledge that water and electricity don’t mix. What happens if major electrical components of the data center become damaged in the same natural disasters they are supposed to be assisting with? What about the threat of pirates? A Google data center would be the ultimate treasure chest.

 

For now, the purpose behind these structures & barges remains a mystery.  As we wait to see whether or not this floating data center theory holds any water, tell us your opinion.

 

Is wave energy a truly cost-effective renewable energy resource?  Would a water-based data center be a smart economical & environmental move for Google or other companies with similar ideas? 

 

 

 

References

 

Appft1.uspto.gov. 2013. United States Patent Application: 0080209234. [online]

     Available at: http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?           Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%

    2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220080209234%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/2

    0080209234&RS=DN/20080209234 [Accessed: 30 Oct 2013].

 

Gaudin, S. 2013. Does Google's floating data center plan hold water?. [online]

     Available at: http://www.networkworld.com/news/2013/102913-does-google39s-floating-

     data-center-275389.html?page=1 [Accessed: 30 Oct 2013].

     

Washington Post. 2013. Google’s crazy barge scheme: Your complete guide. [online]

     Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2013/10/30/googles-crazy-

     barge-scheme-your-complete-guide/ [Accessed: 30 Oct 2013].

 

Comments
by New member rmanning1978
on ‎01-21-2014 06:46 PM

Very interesting post - I enjoyed reading it for a number of reasons.  One, I have family who works at Google and even she has no idea what is going on with those barges!  Two, I really want to know what those barges are! :) And three, I enjoyed the perspective that they might be useful in the event of a natural disaster.  Considering that Google is located in an earthquake zone it only makes sense that they would be coming up with contingency plans incase of disaster.  Having one close to home (SF bay) and across the country (incase of a unthinkable disaster with the headquarters and SF bay is compromised, probably makes sense.  The addition of this back up plan also utilizing wave energy is SO GOOGLE!  It makes me think even more that it is a Google project.  I like there outside the box thiinking.  While I don't know much about wave energy so really can not comment on if it is cost effective or not, I think if it is able to be used, it is simply a secondary benefit to Google's (or whoever's) contingency planning.  I do like the fact though that they are not thinking narrowly and thinking outside the box and trying to incorporate as many things as possible into this project.  As for a water based solution being good for Google or other companies, I say, why not.  In the end someone has to be the first to dip their toe in the water.  Maybe the first few trys might not be successful but eventually they will be.  Someone has to be the trailblazer.

 

I enjoyed the post - would be interested to hear if you, or anyone has any comments to my post.

 

Richard

About the Author
  • I joined Caterpillar in 2001 in the Extended Service Coverage (extended warranty) department of Cat Insurance (division of Cat Financial). I have always loved the water, ships, boats and the challenges of this industry and moved to Caterpillar Marine Power Systems (CMPS) in 2007. I was fortunate to be able to work at CMPS Headquarters in Hamburg, Germany for 2 years and now reside at our Marine Center of Excellence in South Carolina, USA. As the Marine Parts Manager for Cat Marine Parts I am able to work cross functionally with our regional product support teams, our extensive dealer network, customers and bring this knowledge and customer expectations to Caterpillar's incredible resources to design new and innovative product support solutions to meet our customer expectations. This gives me great pride and enjoyment to meet and exceed your expectations and promote the Cat Marine Brand.
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  • After around 10 years of good time in mineral & metal industry, the destiny has guided me through BMW, ThyssenKrupp to the Caterpillar station. At the moment I'm serving as a Six Sigma Strategy Black Belt in Caterpillar Marine Power System.
  • I joined the Caterpillar Team 2007 and worked in several positions most likely in Product Support. 2008 I passed the 6 Sigma Black Belt Training and has leaded various sales and process related projects. After the certification as a 6 Sigma Black Belt I joined the CMPS Product Support Team as a Global Marketing Representative.
  • A maritime academy graduate and a 17 year employee of Caterpillar with 25 years of marine experience, currently managing the Caterpillar Marine Power System Product Support Division representing all product health, product support, parts sales and distribution development activities for Cat and MaK brand marine engines.
  • Originally from Spain, I moved to Hamburg, Germany, in 2010 to write my Master’s Thesis in Industrial Engineering. Upon its completion, I had the opportunity to join Caterpillar Marine Power Systems as an intern at their headquarters. During this period, I supported, in various capacities, sales into the Cargo and European Inland Waterways markets, as well as Offshore Wind opportunities. I am currently working as a Junior Territory Sales Manager in the Europe, Africa, Middle East and CIS Sales Team.
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  • I have been involved in sales and marketing of Caterpillar marine products for almost 45 years including 10 years in the U.K. where I worked on North Sea oil and gas projects. For the past 35 years I have various roles within the marine business of Toromont Cat where I have assembled a portfolio of Caterpillar and MaK powered new construction and repower projects including ferries, Great Lakes bulk-carriers and self-unloaders, Coast Guard vessels and pleasure craft. I admit that my knowledge has come from a hands-on approach to engine sales by wearing coveralls and a hard hat rather than a business suit. I am based in Toronto and am an active member of the C.I.Mar. E. Great Lakes Branch and participate in SNAME Great Lakes/Great Rivers meetings in the U.S.
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  • I have been at Caterpillar for nearly 31 years. All this time has been related to Diesel engines, with the first 23 years in Fuel Systems, the next 3 in the Engine Center, and the last 4 here in Hamburg, Germany, as the Worldwide Demand Manager for Marine and Petroleum MaK engines. In this role, I touch many areas, from concept to delivery, from shipyard to factory. I work with Dealers, Sales Managers, Customers, Accountants, and Order Processors, all the way to the factory floor. Those who know me know that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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