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Google's pending patent for its barge includes liquid cooling from sea water and tidal power.  (Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

A view of the floating tidal power generator that Google is cooking up.  (Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Energy and tax savings are key to Google's oceanic plans

You use Google search all the time.  You've probably heard of Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Maps.  Maybe you've even heard of Google Gears.  But what about Google Navy? 

That's precisely what Google plans to create -- its own "computer navy".  According to reports, Google is starting to get serious about its plans to possibly create a fleet of barges hauling the supercomputers to power its search engine.  The barges would be anchored approximately seven miles (11km) offshore and would enjoy a myriad of benefits.

One perk is that Google could forward its alternative energy efforts, as it plans to harness tidal power, a continuous uninterruptible power source.  This could save it millions in energy costs in years to come.  Google also could plans to use the sea for cooling its supercomputers.  The cold ocean water makes a perfect heat sink when circulated over hot electronics.

Another key advantage of Google's floating fleet would be tax exempt status.  They would no longer have to pay property taxes.  Exactly how much this would save Google is unknown as it is secretive about exactly where its data centers are and how many there are.  However, common sense states that the savings would be significant, definitely in the millions of dollars yearly.

Google has filed a patent application for its designs.  The application describes:
Computing centres are located on a ship or ships, anchored in a water body from which energy from natural motion of the water may be captured, and turned into electricity and/or pumping power for cooling pumps to carry heat away.
With power costs rising, operation of the often football field-sized supercomputers used in data centers is at an all time high.  This is forcing Google and others too look at alternative ways of getting power.  While only consuming 1 percent of the world's electricity in 2005, the rampant growth of the internet, particularly in developing nations like India and China, has fueled an unquenchable thirst for internet processing and with it soaring power requirements.  McKinsey, a consultancy firm, and the Uptime Institute, a think tank, have produced a report which predicts that by 2020 data centers will have a bigger carbon footprint than the airline industry.

Google is not alone in its exotic plans.  Microsoft is considering building data centers in Siberia, while Sun Microsystems recently unveiled plans to build a data center within an abandoned coal mine in Japan, where natural water springs would cool the system.  Just from the savings in electricity the natural cooling would provide, Sun expects to save $9M USD yearly.

Tech experts are praising the innovative thinking of Google and others.  Rich Miller, the author of the blog waxes, "It’s really innovative, outside-the-box thinking."

Google is playing its cards close to its chest, stating merely, "We file patent applications on a variety of ideas. Some of those ideas later mature into real products, services or infrastructure, some don’t."

One key concern for all the exotic data center plans is how to safeguard them against the elements.  For Google the main risks include ocean storms and how to deal with corrosion from the salt.  Microsoft's Siberia plans carry their own risks, such as blizzards and poor power coverage -- and Sun's are no safer -- they have to deal with the possibility of mine collapse and exposure to coal dust.

In all, these datacenters of the future have many hurdles to overcome.  However, as the saying goes necessity is the mother of all invention, so don't be surprised to see them popping up soon.

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How to be number one in Internet:
By EntreHoras on 9/16/2008 9:59:59 AM , Rating: 5
For Microsoft, this will be easy: a couple of destroyers or submarines, and a lot of ammo.

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By omnicronx on 9/16/2008 10:30:47 AM , Rating: 5
Or the cheap and effective way of merely dragging an anchor across the ocean floor...

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By MrBeans on 9/16/2008 12:15:24 PM , Rating: 4
We are googlewater, we will own the waterways too. Is it just me, or is google getting scary?

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By Gzus666 on 9/16/2008 12:26:58 PM , Rating: 3
It is scary they are patenting things? They are patenting a way to make power for their data center, not a way to take over the waterways. And I thought I was paranoid.

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By Oregonian2 on 9/16/2008 12:53:53 PM , Rating: 2
If there's patents, it must be for implementation details because the overall idea is just a composite (theoretically not patentable) and the idea of tidal power generation has already been around for a while.

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By Gzus666 on 9/16/2008 2:03:05 PM , Rating: 2
OK, and how is that scary? That is for the patent office and lawyers to handle, which I assume understand all the technical aspects to make the decision.

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By Oregonian2 on 9/16/2008 4:46:45 PM , Rating: 2
It's not scary. Did I say it was scary? Not me.

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By grath on 9/16/2008 10:03:45 PM , Rating: 2
Lawyers and the USPTO are scarier by far

By Spivonious on 9/16/2008 12:39:17 PM , Rating: 3
Google's already been scary. Where have you been?

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By Googer on 9/16/2008 4:11:39 PM , Rating: 2
Here is a video of the device google wants to implement.

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By Googer on 9/16/2008 4:13:21 PM , Rating: 2
Technical Animation of the device:

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By grath on 9/16/2008 10:27:10 PM , Rating: 2
I have always visualized tidal or wave power more like an underwater wind farm, or some elaborate pulley system needing to anchor of the seabed or an oil platform like facility.

Those Sea Snakes on the other hand, look amazing more simple and plausible than I expected. Easily built in drydock and towed out, well suited for mass production, no supporting infrastructure required just drop anchor and plug it in, no fancy new technologies mainly just good old fashioned robust mechanics. And it really does look like it will actually work.

It has a beauty of simplicity to it and I can see why it would appeal to Google, it very much seems like their style.

RE: How to be number one in Internet:
By Myg on 9/16/2008 3:03:28 PM , Rating: 2
heh, would like to see some people install some bit-torrent websites + torrent servers in that place. Would give a whole new meaning to "Pirating" ;-)

By AnnihilatorX on 9/16/08, Rating: 0
RE: Patents?
By omnicronx on 9/16/2008 10:39:46 AM , Rating: 4
They are not going to market such a product anyway. To stop others using the same idea is evil. :P
No? If Google ever did want to do this, and someone else has the patent, they would have to pay whomever owned it (or wait until the patent is no longer valid). This is usually the reason one would patent something =P

RE: Patents?
By DaveLessnau on 9/16/2008 11:48:04 AM , Rating: 2
Forget "Why." How about "How?" This is not exactly an original idea. I've read plenty of science fiction with floating production facilities in them (Peter F. Hamilton's "Greg Mandel" series for one). Granted, they weren't, specifically, data processing facilities. But, I believe their power supply was temperature or salinity differences of seawater. Regardless, sticking a building on a barge, floating it out to sea and using standard alternative energy methods doesn't sound very patentable to me.

RE: Patents?
By an0dize on 9/16/2008 12:25:10 PM , Rating: 2
I could be wrong here, but I am under the impression that writing about something in a science fiction novel and building a working physical model with plans and so on are completely different things.

RE: Patents?
By DaveLessnau on 9/16/2008 12:46:22 PM , Rating: 2
From (one of the first hits that came up on a Google search (oh, the irony :) ) on "patent requirements:"

Requirements to Patent an Invention
Is my idea patentable?
Conditions for Obtaining a Patent
If you want your idea to be patented, you need to meet three legal requirements:
1. Novelty - meaning that the technology is not "anticipated" or identical to an invention disclosed in a single piece of prior art.
2. Non-Obviousness - meaning that the technology must be different enough from the prior art so as to not be obvious in view of the prior art.
3. Utility - meaning that the invention must have a useful purpose. Virtually all inventions meet the utility requirement which has largely been used to prevent the patenting of "quack" inventions such as perpetual motion machines.
A patent cannot cover a pure law of nature or a business idea.

Non-obviousness and business idea seem to be the things that would prevent a patent, here. There's nothing original in Google's idea. It's just a way for them to run their business a bit differently by lumping known, prior-art concepts together in one chunk. And, the idea is so obvious that, over the last several years, I've had conversations with the spousal unit about hydrogen production using floating factories and solar arrays (assuming some safe way of storing hydrogen were found).

But, then again, I'm not a patent attorney. So, my thoughts are about worth the paper they're printed on.

RE: Patents?
By johnadams on 9/16/2008 1:56:25 PM , Rating: 2
It isn't science fiction.
Oil & Gas offshore development companies have already built massive floating platforms. Of course, these platforms are crude in a sense that they're there for drilling or storage purposes and they're not self-sustainable i.e. a small amount of the gas produced are consumed in operation.

What Google is trying to do is imho very ambitious. Self-sustainable platforms powered by marine energy. This is going to be a grand engineering problem to solve.

By ThatNewGuy on 9/16/2008 10:03:59 AM , Rating: 5
Anyone else immediately think of pirates when reading his?

Yarrrr.... thar be may data centarrrrr....

Lame joke, I know.

RE: Hmmm...
By KaiserCSS on 9/16/2008 12:16:59 PM , Rating: 3
Kinda puts a whole new meaning to the term "software piracy."

Outside the box.
By Mitch101 on 9/16/2008 10:27:47 AM , Rating: 2
I love the idea they are thinking outside the box. That Oil rig the pirate bay tried to buy might just show up on a few major corporations radar now and they have the money.

I have considered using a pair of dryer vents routed to my PC's and funneling the cold air from winter through my PC's and in summer taking the hot exhaust and pumping it outside. Humidity was a concern. Of course this was when I had 5 Prescott computers going in up my office. Now I can run one Intel Wolfdale that runs several VM's and the room only gets mildly warmer when the door is shut for a long time. Looking forward to next gen low heat components.

I would say the hard drives and power supply create the majority of heat now. I cant count the video card because that only really kicks in when I game.

RE: Outside the box.
By Radnor on 9/16/2008 11:42:32 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, on the Hoem "scope",heat generation is more or less controlled.

On a 1U Dual CPU Rackmount, well, it is better, but...

Now, in a Google datacenter....well....i can't imagine the money invested on redundant cooling. Seem like a good idea.

Me personally
By FITCamaro on 9/16/2008 12:14:21 PM , Rating: 2
With the budgets these companies have, I'd build a nuclear plant, use it to power my datacenter, and sell the excess electricity to the community.

RE: Me personally
By Gzus666 on 9/16/2008 12:16:47 PM , Rating: 2
Would make sense. But then again, if they did that, they would have hordes of hippies and morons protesting them, and probably hurt their business.

Google island and Country
By Senju on 9/17/2008 4:39:33 AM , Rating: 3
The year is 2020 and google has finally got independence and created their own country with several floating cities that contain all of earth information data. Stay tune!

and then.....
By gordo on 9/18/2008 4:08:44 PM , Rating: 3
Hurricane Ike returns and wipes out Google in a Spanish Armada-like disaster....then the government "bails" them out because they are too big to fail. We'll just "float" them a loan.

By Zandros on 9/16/2008 11:31:37 AM , Rating: 2
This reminds me of Sun Microsystems' IT-guy commercials/skits.

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