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Google's floating data center plan

Seeks to patent a data center fed by wave-powered energy

By John Fontana
September 17, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Network World - Google Inc., which has been building out its data center inventory for the past few years, is literally floating its latest idea for the location of such facilities with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The company filed a patent application for a "water-based data center" detailing a floating data center, complete with an energy supply fed by a wave-powered generator system and a wind-powered cooling system using seawater.

The patent application, published Aug. 28, describes a modular setup that calls for "crane-removable modules" that store racks of computers. The modules would facilitate adding, subtracting and moving the computing power.

The patent application also details tapping water motion to generate power and the ability to configure the system in many different ways, including on-ship and on-shore data centers, various cooling mechanisms, backup systems, and even temporary housing and helicopter pads to support IT maintenance staffers.

Google is not the first to consider alternatives to the power-sucking data centers that it and others are constructing around the globe, to suggest unique locations or to tap the sea for innovative IT ideas.

Both Google and Microsoft Corp. are already using hydroelectric power options in the Northwest.

A couple in Nebraska that lives underground in a 1960s-era Atlas E Missile Silo wants to turn 15,000 square feet of their bunker into a highly secure data center.

And a company called SeaCode Inc. a few years ago proposed Hybrid-Sourcing, a venture that loads a fully staffed luxury liner with software engineers to get around H-1B visa restrictions and provide U.S. businesses with high-end tech workers.

Google officials say there is nothing to announce now regarding its water-based data center idea.

"We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with. Some of those ideas later mature into real products, services or infrastructure; some don't. We do a lot to make our infrastructure scalable and cost-efficient," a company spokesman said in response to an e-mail.

The idea, however, is fully outlined in the patent application.

Google says computing units could be mounted in shipping containers, which could be stored on ships or floating platforms and loaded and unloaded via equipment already used in shipping ports.

The computers in the containers, or "modules," could easily be replaced or updated as technology advances and adverse sea conditions exact their toll.

Proposed configurations include putting the modules on land next to a body of water.

Water is key for generating power, according to the patent, which cites the use of Pelamis machines and other devices such as wind generators to create energy.

The Pelamis machines use a series of hydraulics powered by water motion to drive motors connected to electrical generators. Other devices, such as a floating power-generation apparatus, use tethers and a spring-loaded hub to gather power from the rise and fall of water levels.

Reprinted with permission from NetworkWorld.com. Story copyright 2012 Network World, Inc. All rights reserved.
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