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Is Google Building a Floating Data Center In San Francisco Bay? 115

snydeq writes "CNET's Daniel Terdiman investigates an oversize secret project Google is constructing on San Francisco's Treasure Island, which according to one expert may be a sea-faring data center. 'Something big and mysterious is rising from a floating barge at the end of Treasure Island, a former Navy base in the middle of San Francisco Bay. And Google's fingerprints are all over it,' Terdiman writes. 'Whether the structure is in fact a floating data center is hard to say for sure, of course, since Google's not talking. But Google, understandably, has a history of putting data centers in places with cheap cooling, as well as undertaking odd and unexpected projects like trying to bring Internet access to developing nations via balloons and blimps.'"
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Is Google Building a Floating Data Center In San Francisco Bay?

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  • best guess (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kevin Fishburne ( 1296859 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @03:27PM (#45246567) Homepage
    A giant cage to trap Cthulhu for their Japanese R&D branch. Google Tentacle; the perfect accessory for Google Glass.
  • "Secret" (Score:5, Informative)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @03:37PM (#45246645)

    Something big and mysterious is rising from a floating barge at the end of Treasure Island, a former Navy base in the middle of San Francisco Bay. And Google's fingerprints are all over it,'

    It's hardly a secret guys. They were granted a patent on sea-based data centers... in 2009 []. They want to build a sea-water based data center, and given the mild seasons of California and abundance of internet peering points, this is the logical place to start.

    The thing is, sea water isn't exactly computer-friendly... so they probably aren't going to get it on the first go. But the water a hundred feet down in the ocean is actually pretty cool. This makes sense... it all comes down to materials selection. Salt water is highly corrosive and they'll need something that can handle hoovering up large jelly fish and such without dying.

    All in all, an interesting, and definately not very secret, project.

    • Re:"Secret" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <joham999@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday October 26, 2013 @03:47PM (#45246715)

      Why use the seawater as your working fluid?

      Just make a closed cycle and put a heat exchanger down there. No need for the seawater to be exposed to anything except the exterior radiators.

      • Re:"Secret" (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @03:51PM (#45246735)

        I assume they'd use some kind of a binary system, with fresh water in the cooling loop and pumping salt water through the heat exchangers. I don't think you'd want to rely on natural heat dissipation, as you'd need a very large radiator, and sea life would love to grow all over it.

      • Are there even any datacenters, power plants, or other such facilities that don't use a closed-loop (full of suitably domesticated, additive-laced, and probably unpleasant enough to be illegal to discharge in quantity, between the metal ions and the assorted biocides, coolant fluid) and then a big, durable, heat exchanger that couples the internal loop to the hostile-but-cheap cold water from the outside world?

        This doesn't change the general "Oh, you want to put that on a boat... Just go back over my pri
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by umghhh ( 965931 )
        Japanese use seawater for cooling their nuclear reactors so I guess there must be some advantage in doing exactly that.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ColdWetDog ( 752185 )

          Japanese use seawater for cooling their nuclear reactors so I guess there must be some advantage in doing exactly that.

          You can use tsunamis to rapidly cool your core after the earthquake shuts the system down.

          Oh. Wait.

          • by Cryacin ( 657549 )
            What they don't want you to know...

            The tsunami was caused when the Angels first impacted in the pacific ocean. The radiation actually emanated from their destruction, showering everything in the deadliest of Weapons grade Baloneum particles. The nuclear reactor was just a clever coverup. The NERV of those guys.
      • Re:"Secret" (Score:4, Interesting)

        by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:21PM (#45249053) Homepage

        Add warmth in deep cold water and you get sky rocketing growth and your heat exchange fails. Coat your heat exchanger with sufficiently toxic products to prevent growth and you not only limit heat exchange but you also pollute the environment. The commute is now also a huge problem especially in stormy whether, you limit you possible work force to those who will accept being trapped at your whim or the weather's whim. Salt corrosion will occur through out the vessel, water vapour droplets generated through wind turbulence (not evaporation) are very salty (as a result of partial evaporation) and will be a permanent nightmare to block, clean, prevent corrosion.

        This has nothing to do with cooling as pumping the water would be car cheaper and everything to do with what is becoming a rather douchy company simply cheating on property taxes. Of course this will blow up in their faces when, it comes to supplying energy to the thing, removing waste especially sewerage, supply fresh water and food, especially during extended inclement weather and one power disruption and profits gone.

        Note also I would have to side with coastal inhabitants who complained that they hunk of junk spoiled their view and who demanded a block to the permanent mooring unless it was far enough out to sea not to obstruct or interfere with their view.

        • If they build the thing around an OTEC [] power can't be interrupted very easily. And is dirt cheap, only costing them the capital to build the plant. And is renewable and environmentally friendly. Everything else is a solved problem. Ever heard of deep ocean oil platforms? They deal with storms, salt corrosion, and everything else on your list. It's not a nightmare. It just requires engineering that accounts for salt plus ongoing maintenance. There's plenty of experience out there and an extensive bod

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            You do realise there is a significant amount of difference between an oil platform and it's crew versus a data centre and it's engineers. Between diesel powered drilling equipment and banks of computers. National exclusive economic zones now extend 200nautical miles out and no you can not sit out there and pollute with sewerage. The further out you go the greater the problems. Then of course you data needs to make it way back to shore but now you are importing and exporting data and subject to fees and cha

          • If you read through the Wikipedia article you quoted [], you'll learn that OTEC only really works in warm waters, where the heat difference between surface and depth is large enough. The best US location for OTEC is Hawaii, and there's only one functioning OTEC plant in the world, near Japan. So Google is most likely not building an OTEC plant, or they'd do so in a very different shipyard instead of on Treasure Island.
            • The construction site doesn't mean all that much. Whatever they're building it's mobile. If it's not self-mobile, it can be moved with tugs. I'm sure they were much more interested in who was doing the building than where. Building structures for long term deep ocean deployment is a solved problem, but you still want to hire a competent shipyard.

      • The specific heat of metal is much lower compared to water.

        Meaning the temperature of the water changes very little as it moves, unlike metal.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by umghhh ( 965931 )
      This is not the point actually but even if it were - secret is not that the big artificial island is built but what is its purpose. From all the movies I have seen last few decades, this never ends well - the evil starting from the artificial construction destroys civilization leaving small group surviving if at all. That is actually a good solution because it tends to show idyllic surroundings and Tom Cruise (or other Hollywood world savior) with some nice female over a newly born that is a hope for the hu
      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        Put down the pop-corn big guy.

        There is a reason this is done only in the movies. Its because they are movies.

    • If it was my project I'd use extendable plastic pipes to circulate the cooling liquid and let the colder sea water carry away the heat. It's certainly more efficient than air, and San Francisco Bay's water is pretty cold to being with. It would take a monumental amount of heat to alter the Bay's ecosystem.
    • Re:"Secret" (Score:4, Insightful)

      by icebike ( 68054 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @07:57PM (#45248185)

      Seems like a big investment to build on a barge that can get swamped by the first storm that comes along.

      You then have the problem of power, and communications that have to be fed to the barge. If you run your own
      generators you have a refueling problem, with risk of spill at every refueling.

      Once you get out of the bay, you have a police protection issue. Pretty hard to call the cops. Pretty risky
      to start shooting at lookie-lews.

      You have transport to and from issues as well. And if you think anyone is going to allow you to avoid taxes this way, well good luck with that.

      In the first world, this makes no sense, and even the sea water cooling could be accommodated by cheaply laid pipe to land.
      In the third world, this might make sense, because towed to Africa and guarded by some friendly government you
      could use it as a base to handle all your balloon wifi or what ever hair brained scheme you might be planning.

    • Google already have the Hamina facility in Finland [] which has been using sea water to cool the centre since 2009/2011. They've had a good few years to start getting the kinks ironed out.
  • by BlindRobin ( 768267 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @03:46PM (#45246707)

    They'll have to sail it around the horn or teleport it because everyone knows they only place to put a floating data centre is at the centre of the Bermuda triangle so that it can take advantage of all the free energy from the astral vortex.

    • I don't recall seeing this when I was at the centre of the Bermuda Triangle some time back. Maybe it was hidden in the mysterious mist that is supposed to arise there.

    • Oh thanks. That explains things. I wondered where the "as well as an inexpensive source of power -- the sea" quote came from.

      Other than the journalist's last hit off the bong.

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @04:03PM (#45246825)

    as well as undertaking odd and unexpected projects like trying to bring Internet access to developing nations via balloons and blimps.

    In this case they're trying to bring internet access to pirates.

  • ... Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered "no"

    I just can't see how an underwater data centre could be more economical than a normal one on land. Maybe they're experimenting with some new offshore cooling system, but a whole data centre? No.

  • by WaxlyMolding ( 1062736 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @04:16PM (#45246929)
    There is another barge in the harbor in Portland, Maine []
  • functions perfectly as a front for You Know What.
    There's trade in them data, you know.

    • By 'Google', you mean that intelligence organization we keep hearing about with unlimited cash provided by ads nobody has ever clicked?
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @04:20PM (#45246971)

    Apple going to build a fancy Spaceship? Fine, Google will just build a goddam giant undersea fortress!

  • How can they get a patent on this? Wasn't pretty much the same thing done in Snow Crash, albeit for a different reason?

    • The fact that something was done in a work of fiction has nothing to do with getting a patent for developing the idea in the Real World.
    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

      How can they get a patent on this? Wasn't pretty much the same thing done in Snow Crash, albeit for a different reason?

      Are you suggesting that Google is building a prototype depleted-uranium railgun? If so, this is going to be awesome... Redmond will never know what hit them.

    • by RDW ( 41497 )

      With all those mysterious shipping containers and the Bay Bridge, this looks much more William Gibson than Neal Stephenson.

  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @06:07PM (#45247575)

    2. Deliver all ads from those servers.
    3. Evade taxes in every jurisdiction by declaring that all ad revenue is generated in FloatingAdServer1 through FloatingAdServer14.
    4. Profit!

  • It's only Google planning for another epic Holiday Party

  • Even with Steve Jobs showing up at city council, permits still might sink Apple's mothership. And if they register it in Lyberia and moor it in Mexico for a while they might escape property taxes too.

  • Pretty much the same, on a floating barge here in Portland. Just read an article about it the paper (dead tree version). It's pretty clearly tied to google, that's clear. Also, the registrations of these two barges were a three letter designation and then 0010 and 0011 so there's probably at least one more out there (0001) somewhere and quite possibly at 0000 too.
  • I would think that rejecting lots of waste heat into San Francisco Bay would require an Environmental Impact Report, as well as approval from the Coastal Commission and probably other government checks. IANALaywer or expert on these things; but just follow the news on things like the remodels of piers in San Francisco and other things that touch the water. If Google somehow manages to be "special" on something like that, well... EVIL!

    • Although the the heat from some servers would make zero difference given that the ocean currents mix with the entire Pacific Ocean, this is California. Specifically, San Francisco. Last I heard, you need a permit to urinate in SF because the odor could effect air quality and if you can get a piss permit it takes a few years.

      • According to this CBS Local article [], construction stopped a few weeks ago due to a lack of permits:

        The reason: Google does not have a permit for a floating anything. “Google has spent millions on this,” said an insider close to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. “But they can’t park this barge on the waterfront without a permit, and they don’t have one.” A BCDC official confirmed the agency has held discussions with Google about “hypoth

  • gurgle (Score:3, Funny)

    by GrimShady ( 2714901 ) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @12:12AM (#45249279)
    maybe they will change their name to Gurgle
  • I say I say I say, how does a floating data center connect to the internet?

    Pier-to-pier networking!

    But seriously, what bandwidth and latency can you expect from something out in the ocean, unless they drag a wodge of fibres with them or tap into something on the seabed...

  • There's 4 of them (Score:5, Informative)

    by wimh ( 3410971 ) on Sunday October 27, 2013 @04:30AM (#45249911)

    According to the US ship registration database (go to [] and search for BAL0), there are four similar barges, with the convenient names:

    Looks like there's a pattern there, and it does scream Google...

  • How do you get all the network cabling to a floating datacentre? One good gust of wind and the datacentre moves (unless it's like an oil rig, but that doesn't sound like a "floating" datacentre) and the cables stretch and break.

    Better to submerge the datacentre. When it's firmly anchored to the seabed it can't move - but it still has all the seawater around it for cooling. You'd probably need something like Stromberg's setup (from 007: The Spy Who Loved Me) in reality, to get peope to & from it.

    In ad

  • Microsoft set up some time ago a submarine fleet [], whose purpose is now clear: they want to torpedo Google's fleet!
  • Containerized servers are old hat, and they don't make a lot of sense under normal conditions. Mobility and redeployment really need to be important goals to justify the compromises.

    Containers are roughly 8x8x40, so naively could contain 80x 54u racks, which means up to 2 MW/container. In reality, density probably wouldn't be nearly that high, but probably the better part of 1 MW. Water cooling with aquasar-type heatsinks would be an obvious implementation. The barge looks like a 3x3x2 prism of these co

  • move the NSA out there, cut the cables and give 'em a push out to sea. google has the right idea.
  • it's only a matter of time before they get shut down by environmentalists. The problem with using sea water as cooling is that the net result is the warming of the sea water. Even only a few degrees can alter the local ecology. It would be one thing if what they were doing was a net zero effect, but if they are pulling energy off the grid, then they will be putting grid energy into the water as heat, and that is not good...

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor