Google Proposes Oceanic Data Barges

By PatB
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

The Times Online reports that Google wants to pile several datacenters onto some empty oil tankers and shove them offshore to international waters.  Their plan?  Use the ocean’s waves to generate electricity and to keep their equipment cool.  This could apparently save them millions in operating costs and also help the company avoid paying any taxes to sovereign nations.

From the Times Online here:

Google may take its battle for global domination to the high seas with the launch of its own “computer navy”. The company is considering deploying the supercomputers necessary to operate its internet search engines on barges anchored up to seven miles (11km) offshore.

The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres, which are sited across the world, including in Britain.

In an attempt to address the problem, Microsoft has investigated building a data centre in the cold climes of Siberia, while in Japan the technology firm Sun Microsystems plans to send its computers down an abandoned coal mine, using water from the ground as a coolant. Sun said it could save $9 million (£5 million) of electricity costs a year and use half the power the data centre would have required if it was at ground level.

Concerns have been raised about whether the barges could withstand an event such as a hurricane. Mr Miller said: “The huge question raised by this proposal is how to keep the barges safe.”

I don’t think the wizards at Google have fully cooked this idea.  First, ocean power is as yet unproven for power production on a large scale, and I fail to see how it could generate the megawattage required to power a datacenter.  Second, salt water destroys everything.  The datacenters at sea would have to be considered disposable.  Salt water corrodes everything it touches, and ships that are moored collect enough barnacles and algae to keep a squad of maintenance crew in wetsuits employed fulltime to scape the keels.

And seeing that a hurricane can shut down gasoline production in the gulf by impacting gigantic offshore oil platforms, what chance do moored ships have against storms?  Google would return 404 errors everytime it rained really hard.

I recognize the need to reduce costs associated with datacenters though, particularly when it comes to cooling.  Building a datacenter in an old mineshaft?  Smart.  Building in Siberia?  Smart.  Putting out to sea?  What a dumb idea.  And don’t get me started on the company trying to avoid their taxes.