Does Google's floating data center plan hold water?

Speculation swirls around two mysterious barges as officials remain tight-lipped

With speculation swirling that two mysterious barges on either side of the U.S. are evidence Google's working on floating data centers, analysts say the company would have a lot of obstacles to overcome for that idea to become a reality.

"It's not that far fetched," said David Cappuccio, a vice president and chief of research at Gartner Inc. "You have to be somebody of Google's size to even consider this."

The two barges -- one docked in San Francisco Bay and the other docked in the harbor in Portland, Me. -- produced a barrage of questions and rumors in those communities. Then people realized the two barges are owned by the same company and have very similar names, prompting even more speculation.

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 barges each carry a large, structure seemingly comprised of shipping containers. They're about 40 feet wide and 70 to 80 feet long.

It's widely thought that Google owns the structures, which 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.

Fueling the speculation, though, is the level of secrecy around them.

Portland officials say they don't know what's on the barge docked in the harbor and the local Coast Guard station reported that only the captain there knows what's onboard.

A worker at The Cianbro Co., the construction company contracted to work on the barge in Maine, told a reporter taking photos of the barge on Monday to leave the property. Today, Cianbro CEO Pete Vigue told Computerworld that there is little he can say about the project.

"It is docked at our wharf," said Vigue. "I'm not allowed to make any comments on our involvement or what we're doing or what is happening at our facility. There is a very strict non-disclosure agreement."

He did add that he thinks this will be positive for the state of Maine. "I think it's very positive and we'll leave it at that," he said.

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