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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