Google floats idea of sea-powered data centres

Floating data centres to use sea water to power and cool the server farms of tomorrow

Barry Collins
9 Sep 2008

Google has filed a patent for a floating data centre powered and cooled by sea water alone.

The search monolith, which has more than 30 data centres spread across the globe, claims the floating hubs are a cheaper and greener alternative to traditional, land-based centres.

The key to Google's plans are Pelamis Machines - generators devised by the Scottish company Pelamis Wave Power that are already used in the Orkneys to convert wave power into electricity.

"In general, computing centres are located on a ship or ships, which are then 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 from computers in the data centre," the patent reads.

"The data centres may also be on shore and receive power and/or cooling water from floating systems."

The patent claims that several Pelamis Machines and associated servers could be joined together to create an easily scalable server farm. "In general, motion-powered machines may be made up of multiple pontoon segments, that are movable relative to each other," the patent says.

"One exemplary system is the Pelamis P-750 Wave Energy Converter. The pontoons may take any appropriate size, but may each be on the order of 3.5 meters in diameter 150 meters long.

"Each machine can generate approximately 750 kilowatts, and an array or farm of machines can produce 2.25 megawatts or more. Approximately 40 machines spread over a square kilometre could also produce approximately 30 MW. The system may operate satisfactorily, for example, approximately 3-7 miles from shore, in 50-70 meters of water."

Data rescue

Google claims the server ships could be particularly useful in situations where data centres are needed rapidly, such as in areas that have been hit by a natural disaster.

"Transient needs for computing power may arise in a particular area," Google claims. "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.

"Often, such transient events occur near water, such as a river or an ocean. However, it can be expensive to build and locate data centres, and it is not always easy to find access to necessary (and inexpensive) electrical power, high-bandwidth data connections, and cooling water for such data centres."

The ships also have the benefit of bringing data closer to the people who need it. "Data centres may be moved closer to users, with relevant content sent from a central facility out to regional data centers only once, and further transmissions occurring over shorter regional links.

"As a result, every request from a user need not result in a transmission cross-country and through the internet backbone - network activity may be more evenly balanced and confined to local areas."

The patent also makes provisions for staff working on the floating platforms, including living accommodation, a helipad and areas to store food and fuel.

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