Mysterious barges in Maine and San Francisco ignite Google rumors

Is Google building floating data centers? Transporting Google Glass outlets or retail stores? Everyone is mum on the subject

Speculation that had been growing about mysterious barges harbored on both sides of the U.S. is exploding.

The barges, each carrying a large, modular looking structure about 40 feet wide and 70 to 80 feet long, have been moved into and docked in harbors in San Francisco and Portland, Maine.

It's widely rumored that Google owns the structures that could be carrying floating data centers, Google Glass stores or Apple-like Google retail operations.

Google has not responded to multiple requests for information on the barges.

The speculation has been fueled by how hard everyone around the projects is working to blunt any questions about the barges.

data center on a barge?
These shipping containers piled on top of a barge in Portland, Maine, could be a Google floating data center, although the Internet company won't say. A similar barge is docked in San Francisco Bay. (Photo: Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld)

The construction company working on the barge in Maine and the Portland Harbormaster are tight lipped about the barges. In Portland, a reporter taking photos of the barge docked at Ricker's Wharf, was asked to leave the area.

"We know what's inside," said a Portland Coast Guard station spokesman. "We know it's not a threat to public safety here in Portland. It's following all regulations."

Furthering online rumors are the similar names of the vessels -- the barge in Portland is registered as BAL 0011, and the the barge docked in San Francisco, is registered as BAL 0010.

Both barges appear to be owned by the same company, By and Large, LLC. However, no telephone number could be found for the company and it could not be found at a Delaware address given for it.

Both structures, which are four stories tall, appear to be built out of or are surrounded by modular containers. Most of the modules have thin slits instead of windows and each has an enclosed section on the second floor that goes down to the ground level at one end.

The structure in Maine also has four modules on the end that are covered by wood.

People working near the barge docked in Portland reported that they haven't seen much, if any, activity on the structure since it arrived earlier this month.

Industry analysts all point to the fact that Google received a patent for a floating data center back in 2009. The plan included he use of ocean water to cool the systems and waves to help power it.

"This appears to be an offshore data center," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group. "You can use water for cooling and there are a number of creative ways to get energy. More likely these will be moved around to provide localized support or backup as needed."

tugboat towing barge

A tugboat from Portland Tugboat LLC tows the so-called "mystery barge," that could be a floating data center owned by Google, into Portland Harbor in Maine. (Photo: Portland Tugboat LLC Facebook page)

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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