Does Google's floating data center plan hold water?

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

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About 40 machines spread over a square kilometer could produce approximately 30 megawatts of power, Google reported.

Google's patent also noted that wind turbines could be used to supplement energy production and batteries onboard the floating platform or ship could store any excess energy produced.

The system also would use seawater-to-freshwater converters. The cold water would then be used to cool the data centers, which can produce great amounts of heat.

Cappuccio noted that only a very large company, such as Google or Facebook, would need a data center large enough to require upwards of 30 megawatts of power.

"There are a lot of issues here," he added. "If they were to do this, they'd have to think about fishing areas and international shipping lanes. And what about telecom? They're not going to use satellites to support the amount of workload they're talking about. They'd have to lay underwater telecom cable and that doesn't make them mobile."

Cappuccio, though, said Google is known for some out-of-the-box thinking and could be working on validating its idea.

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)

Christian Perry, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said there could be serious benefits from offshore data centers.

"As cloud deployments grow in size and scope, the need for alternative data center infrastructures becomes more critical," he explained. "The more dense the data center server environments become, the bigger the challenges with power and cooling. Denser server architectures output more heat, which in turn demands more cooling. We'll see this increasingly with hyper-scale deployments geared for the cloud."

And Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said if Google does test floating data centers with some success, it would be a big innovation for the industry.

"They'd have cheap space and unlimited power if it's really powered off of waves," he said. "Google likes to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks."

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

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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