Search on the Seas: Google Water-Based Data Center Patent Granted

Imagine a fleet of sea-worthy vessels being able to deliver computing needs to people without having to send information cross country, but rather anchored on the seas nearby.

Now consider data centers on those ships being powered by the waves and cooled by the waters.

Google was granted a patent on a water-based data center today:

Water-based data center
Invented by Jimmy Clidaras, David W. Stiver, and William Hamburgen
Assigned to Google
Granted: April 28, 2009
Filed February 26, 2007

Abstract

A system includes a floating platform-mounted computer data center comprising a plurality of computing units, a sea-based electrical generator in electrical connection with the plurality of computing units, and one or more sea-water cooling units for providing cooling to the plurality of computing units.

Some of the topics covered in the patent:

1) Wave powered generators such as Pelamis machines may power sea-based data centers and pumps to cool them.

2) Land-based data centers could also be used, taking energy from platforms floating on water.

3) The data centers might be contained in standard shipping containers, loaded aboard ships and connected to cooling and electrical systems aboard those ships. The ships may then be deployed to where they are needed. Google has previously been granted a patent for a Modular Data Center

4) The patent notes in closing that electricity could also be generated from other sources to power data centers, such as sea-based wind generator farms and power from river currents.

5) A patent application from 2008, under the Exaflop LLC name, describes a way of cooling data centers using warm water cooling. Exaflop is headquartered at the same address as Google, and has filed a number of patent applications involving data centers. This patent filing anticipates the possibility of data centers in modular containers aboard ships:

[0102] Alternatively, cooling water may be obtained out of the body of water in which the boats sit, such as when free cooling using deep lake cooling. In addition, generators on the boat or other sorts of power plants on the boats, may generate electricity for the data centers. In such situations, a boat may be anchored offshore, and may attach to an offshore data connection, such as an optical fiber connection.

In this manner, computing power may be easily projected geographically on short notice, and may be alternatively used at sea and on land as the need arises. For example, where a large event is expected to occur, or a large number of computer users is expected to congregate, near a port, such a data center may be supplied at the port.

Will Google start creating data centers that operate on seas and lakes, generating their own electricity and cooling their operations with the waves they float upon? It’s looking like a possibility.

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63 thoughts on “Search on the Seas: Google Water-Based Data Center Patent Granted”

  1. How do they plan to connect these data centers? They need 100s of Wi-Max antenna to handle the kind of bandwidth they require. Satellite communication would be too slow.

  2. I’d like to see how those brainstorming sessions in google go. I mean their ideas get crazier and crazier each time I read about them. But I guess getting energy from waves might be a very nice way of saving money.

  3. Hillarious, yet what a great idea.

    I recently read an article in a british national newspaper that claimed a single google search used as much electricity as boiling a kettle. In theory I can understand this, with a mount of hdd activity, but in the scheme things it uses less energy than sending a hard copy of information to person to person.

    Nice find, great read!

    Phillip

  4. Aren’t containers already used somewhere as a modular means of managing data-centres? Can’t find the article now but I’m sure I have read about it before. Guess it isn’t a huge leap to thinking… hey, you know what carries containers!? Although I do agree with Jeet, I think they would have to be fairly constrained in location/size due to bandwidth and possibly the power requirements.

    As for the newspaper article Phillip, it took a small quote taken completely out of context to get to the attention-grabbing headline that they came to!

  5. I remember hearing about this a while ago and dismissing it as a far fetched idea. Now it looks like they’ll go ahead with it. I wouldn’t write it off because of bandwidth issues, I’m sure they’ll get around it somehow. The self generated power is certainly something that other companies should look into.

  6. Intersting idea, whould like to see how they are going to implement this))))) though alternative power sources should be used more effectively

  7. Hi Jeet,

    Good question. The focus of the patent is on generating electricity and providing cooling for the data centers, but it doesn’t cover how high bandwidth data connections would become available to these water-based data centers. I’d like to hear more on how that might be accomplished.

    Hi Bezpieczenstwo,

    Given the cost of land to develop upon, the ability for a data center to relocate quickly, savings from energy generation and cooling, and other possible benefits from this approach, it is an interesting idea.

    Hi Phillip,

    I remember reading that as well. I believe that the original article was Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches (pdf), and that it focused upon the amount of CO2 generated per search, as opposed to the amount of energy used.

    “performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle”

    The BBC also picked up on it, but added some additional details that disputed the actual cost of a Google Search:

    ‘Carbon cost’ of Google revealed

    The official Google Blog covered that claim as well, and there are a couple of interesting updates in their post:

    Powering a Google search

    In the last update, Google tells us that “a typical individual’s Google use for an entire year would produce about the same amount of CO2 as just a single load of washing.”

  8. Hi People Finder,

    Interestingly, one of the “purposes” that Google states is behind using data centers aboard ships might be to provide computing power to areas that have been subjected to natural disasters. Another might be where a “military presence” is needed:

    Also, transient needs for computing power may arise in a particular area. For example, a military presence may be needed in an area, a natural disaster may bring a need for computing or telecommunication presence in an area until the natural infrastructure can be repaired or rebuilt, and certain events may draw thousands of people who may put a load on the local computing infrastructure.

    That might mean being located in an area that is at risk, whether natural or manmade.

  9. Hi Adam,

    It doesn’t seem as farfetched now, does it. I suspect the bandwidth issues won’t be a stumbling block either.

    Hi Glyn,

    The idea itself is interesting. Should floating data centers be something that should be patentable? That’s a good question. I’d like to see a serious argument on both sides from people who practice patent law.

    Hi website optimisation,

    I think that’s what I like best about this approach – that it takes alternative power generation very seriously.

  10. Hmmm… If they can overcome the heavy metals problem, maybe at the end of their useful life they can sink them as eco-friendly artificial reefs.

  11. Hi Tom,

    Heavy metal contaminants aren’t unique to the anti-foulant paints used on ships, but I’m not sure if I would be surprised to see a Google patent filing addressing that problem either these days. :)

  12. I worked on a container ship for 15 years. I believe that it would work. The weather is the wild card.

  13. Hi Chuck,

    Thanks for your unique perspective on whether or not Google’s water-based approach might work.

    I imagine that there are some stumbling blocks that it’s hard to see on paper that might provide challenges – weather does sound like it might something to be concerned about in a significant way. You’ve probably seen some serious storms during your 15 years on the waters.

  14. Hi Bill, seems as things really move on with sea-based data centers.
    Good to see that power supply part of equation (or rather system of equations) is being solved bit by bit.
    Placing such data centers in proximity to trans-ocean cable landings on ocean floor could solve connectivity problem (there are also a couple of other solutions). I can’t post pictures here, so see illustrations at http://ihatecubicle.blogspot.com/2008/09/ocean-floor-data-center.html.

    I would also take a closer look at optimizing heat exchange part and corruption.

  15. Hi Khazret,

    Thank you for the information about the possible placement of water-based data centers near trans-ocean cable landings, It is going to be interesting to see how Google goes forward in implementing these data centers.

  16. You have to give it to Google, they don’t stand still for long! My initials thoughts are that water and electricity aren’t a great mix, but if the data centres were stored on huge frigates, I presume there as safe as on land

  17. Hi Hertfordshire SEO,

    Frigates like that would certainly have their own safety concerns, but I’m beginning to like the idea more and more. I keep on wondering if search engines have their own navies within the next ten years.

  18. These day generating electricity from the waves in the sea is fast becoming a reality with several large prototypes already in existence. But I don’t understand having a data centre in the sea like someone said before how would you get the connections up and running. I am no expert but this sounds like a crazy idea.

  19. Hi Greenman,

    I haven’t seen much in the patents from Google on the connections, but we have seen Google in discussions about putting a floating data center in Scotland, mentioned in the comments above. That seems to indicate that they have some idea of how to move forward with that issue.

  20. This sounds like an interesting concept, although the setting up and maintaining of this kind of system may kick up plenty of problems for Google. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how they get round them all and make this work.

  21. Hi Terry,

    It is pretty interesting. The idea of Google having their own navy, and advertising for datacenter managers with nautical experience is something I’m looking forward to seeing.

  22. Wow, that’s like pure science fiction. I have to admit that I don’t quite believe it – the bandwith issues flagged above must surely be a show stopper – mustn’t it?

  23. Hi Steve,

    I don’t think that bandwidth would be a problem, especially since they seem to be negotiating in Scotland on locating such a floating data center off the coast there.

  24. Isn’t this proof that Google has the most innovative and intelligent team between Fortune 500? By the way, does anyone have any information about the usage of the concept of the patent?

  25. Hi Orik,

    Google does strive to innovate, but I’m not sure that we really know too much about what is going on behind some of the doors of the corporate headquarters of some of the other Fortune 500. As I noted in the comments above, we do have some news about negotiations between Google and government agencies in Scotland about the possibility of floating an off-shore data center off its coastline. We can’t tell for certain, but that might be a proof of concept of the idea under development.

  26. I’d say it seems like a very good idea. As most of Google’s ideas usually are. I guess they weren’t happy with just taking over the internet now they want the oceans too! LOL

  27. Hi Trent,

    It does seem like a good idea, but it also presents a lot of new challenges. I’m keeping my eyes open for Google job postings requiring ship board experience. :)

  28. Yep, Google have their grip on the ether – now its the physical world, then the whole galaxy!! In all seriousness, they are certainly not resting on their laurels. They know that the minute they think they have everyone beat, they’ll be falling by the way side. Ambitious and innovative – let’s juts hope they continue to play fair.

  29. Hi Jon,

    It is unusual to see something like this patent from a company that we believe is focused primarily on search, and it is innovative. It will be interesting to see if they do move forward, and set up a data center like this.

  30. Hi Nathan,

    How these floating data centers might be connected to the Web isn’t one of the details covered in the patent filing itself. I’m not sure that it’s an impediment to how one of these systems might work, though.

  31. What a great idea. It would save money and be more environmentally friendly. The only issue I can see is the high maintenance when something goes wrong. As we are seeing now with the BP oil rig, large structures out at sea can be very prone to destruction!

    Also, can you really picture Google’s engineers with their skateboards and baggy pants working in an oil-rig style environment? ;)

  32. Hi Sarah,

    It looks like these floating datacenters may actually be set near a coastline rather than miles off land.

    I can imagine someone on a Google Segway or skateboard on one of these, but I was thinking they would probably look more like cargo ships than oil rigs. Google has a patent filed for datacenters in cargo containers, so a cargo ship might be a better fit.

  33. Hadn’t heard of this but it sounds like a great eco way to move forward.

    Here in Swansea we’re still waiting for the water barrage project to go ahead which will be incredible investment in the area as well as the environment with the barrage producing something like 15% of Wales energy.

    I hope Google succeeds with their idea.

  34. Bill, as always reading your blog is a trip! Or a voyage rather :) Not sure how or if this will be affected by more recent events in the Gulf of Mexico – but the advantages are pretty clear-cut.

  35. Hi Steve,

    Swansea looks like a beautiful place, and it’s great to see them trying out something that sounds pretty innovative to produce electricity.

    Google’s water-based data centers is also a pretty innovative approach. I hope they succeed with it as well.

  36. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks. I’m hoping that the oil spill in the Gulf doesn’t impact this ideal from Google negatively. I think there’s much less of a potential for environmental harm from a floating data center than from an oil drilling operation. If anything, it seems that a water based system like this might be an energy saver.

  37. They are also now getting involved in a 350-mile underwater electric cable off the U.S. East Coast that could form the backbone of a grid carrying power from future offshore wind turbines.

  38. Hi Web Design Dundee,

    I’ve been reading about the cable, and think that it’s a great idea. Been thinking about writing a blog post, exploring some of the things that Google is doing from an energy savings stance, and I’ve collected a few resources on the topic. Interesting to see them branch off like this.

  39. I love these kind of wacky ideas, then in 10-15 years all of a sudden they’re not so wacky and are an integral part of our lives. I wish they would bring back Tomorrows World, I used to love all the tech on that show. Instead now we have Strictly Come Dancing, talk about the BBC dumbing down, tragic!!

    Anyway back on topic, I think they could do this in terms of power and cooling but that’s gonna need some pretty strong wifi to work, plus is it really needed?

  40. Hi Andrew,

    I’d love to see more educational and technology related shows on television, too.

    I don’t know if wifi is going to be needed. Google is working on helping finance projects like the Atlantic Wind Connection (see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/12/AR2010101202271.html) which would help lay out an electrical grid for wind power projects along the eastern coast of the United States. I would imagine that such a system could include internet access to help monitor and run those wind turbines, and might include enough bandwidth for a data center or two to run as well. I could see Google working to build systems like this in other places as well.

  41. Fascinating stuff. I envisage a mine field like structure accross the Eastern Sea Board.

    It’s about time we went large scale on using the sea and wind for energy, if Google are lending their financial weight to it then good things could happen. Here’s hoping!

  42. Hi Andrew.

    Fingers crossed. I know that Delaware has been looking at wind turbines located a number of miles offshore for a few years. The electrical grid that the Atlantic Wind Connection would bring would make their project a lot more feasible. Having Google get involved helps too. Fingers crossed.

  43. This should have come about many years ago. Apparently 60% of the uk could have been powered by wind power alone! If it wasn’t for the oil companies, with their hidden agendas claiming that wind power is too expensive it would be a reality today. They won’t be saying this when we are paying the price for the over use of fossil fuels.

  44. I think the data transfers would not constitute a problem, since these floating datacenters would propably be anchored close to coast anyway, so a relatively short fiber-optic cable would take care of that. A far bigger problem would be storms. Regular cargon ships are mobile and can avoid huge storms, but would the data centers be required to abandon their power sources and head for shore, and how wold that affect data transmission?

  45. Hi Mark,

    The patent does mention things that might cause these floating data centers to move from one place to another. Getting away from storms definitely may provide some incentive to relocate. The patent also mentions some reasons to move closer to some areas too, such as major events like championship games.

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