Google operating mystery barges


Google has been confirmed as behind three mysterious shipping barges on or near the US coasts. The most likely explanation is that they are data centers which will need less cooling.

One barge is at Rickers Wharf in Portland and was last reported to be docked with staff installing equipment inside. Another is near a former navy base in San Francisco Harbor, while the third was in New London, Connecticut before being towed to Maine.

Both barges are carrying a four-story structure made of shipping containers. Local journalists who’ve checked legal records have confirmed they belong to Delaware firm By and Large LLC, which owns four barges with the numbers BAL001, BAL0010, BAL0011 and BAL0100. (GaS readers likely won’t need to be told those numbers equate to 1, 2, 3 and 4 in binary code.)

Delaware is regularly used by large companies as a legal base for new operations thanks to its favorable tax and business regulations. As well as the binary code, another clue that a tech firm is behind the operation is that By and Large may be a reference to a similarly-named collossus firm in the movie WALL-E.

Google was an obvious candidate and the Coast Guard in San Francisco initially said the company was involved in the barge. It later said it was under a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t give any further details. After that it changed its public stance again and said it was unable to confirm or deny any involvement.

However, a New London newspaper used the Freedom of Information Act to force the Coast Guard in Connecticut to confirm officials met Google staff to discuss the barge there.

At least one of the Google staff who took part in the meeting is involved in Google Glass. That’s led to speculation that the ships may be extremely elaborate display centers and retail stores for Google Glass devices, touring the country (or at least the coastal states.) The FOI request revealed that the Maine barge is indeed planned to be moved to various ports, starting in New York.

It’s seems something of an overengineered solution however. Another theory is that the barges will house floating data centers. That’s based on Google having already received a patent on a technology for using the ocean as a cooling mechanism, reducing the energy needed to keep servers from overheating.

6 Responses to Google operating mystery barges

  1. Clever solution, keep servers out on the ocean, which in turn keeps them cool. Only one slight drawback, keeping the servers connected to Google’s core computers, Satellite coverage is inefficient and costly. So I bet they’re using short-band radio frequencies to relay the data through a network of receivers but this results in time-lag. So hard to find a balance.

    • When they are docked it’s easy to run a fiber optic line or multiple cable lines to get a decent trunk direct to the barge. Instead of setting up many stores all over why not move the stores you have?

    • It’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future, but there’s one potential application of Project Loon – although I doubt the balloons they’re currently thinking of would have anywhere near enough bandwidth to handle a data centre.

    • No real reason to be anchored so far out you can’t have fiber lines going. You could probably even stay inside a harbor and get efficient enough cooling.

  2. Leave it to The Day to FOI it when reporters across the country sat around with their thumbs up their butts not knowing what to do without a press release.

    The Day is one of the best small newspapers in America…its coverage area ends just a bit south of where I live unfortunately.

    It also has an interesting ownership model — since 1939 it’s been a Public Trust, created by the will of the founder. The profits from the newspaper are given away to local charities. It doesn’t fully insulate them from market pressure — if they lose money for too many years in a row, they’ll go out of business. But it does insulate them from non-sensical financial shenanigans many companies engage in.

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