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Cloud Networking The Internet

Startup Builds Prototype For Floating Data Center 96

1sockchuck writes: California startup Nautilus Data Technologies has developed a floating data center that it says can dramatically slash the cost of cooling servers. The company's data barge is being tested near San Francisco, and represents the latest chapter in a long-running effort to develop a water-based data center. Google kicked things off with a 2008 patent for a sea-going data center that would be powered and cooled by waves, conjuring visions of offshore data havens. Google never built it, but IDS soon launched its own effort to convert old Navy vessels into "data ships" before going bankrupt. Nautilus is using barges moored at piers, which allows it to use bay water in its cooling system,eliminating the need for CRAC units and chillers. The company says its offering may benefit from the growing focus on data centers' water use amid California's drought.
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Startup Builds Prototype For Floating Data Center

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday August 20, 2015 @02:58PM (#50356541)

    >> growing focus on data centers' water use amid California's drought

    Um...what? Don't they just chill the water, let the data center warm it and then reuse it?

    Why not check to see what California agriculture's doing with it's majority share of the water first?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ummm ... because it requires a lot of energy to cool water and companies are trying to do it cheaply so they want to take groundwater which is already cold?

    • Don't they just chill the water

      here is a person with a pretty poor grasp of themodynamics

    • I believe that the chillers used in data centers spray water over a radiator allowing the water to evaporate, the evaporating water draws heat away causing a performance increase to the warm side of the AC unit.

      Usually however, they use grey water for this purpose as the water doesn't need to be clean, any water (except black water) will work. This is why the concerns over the NSA Utah data center's water usage are laughable, it is using grey water, not clean water, so it is water that otherwise would be b

      • it is water that otherwise would be being treated and dumped into a river.

        you just told us that they are evaporating the water, so it would end up in the atmosphere

        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          Do you know what "otherwise" means?
        • The water used in cooling datacenters is water that if not used for that purpose would be being treated and dumped back into rivers, not already treated water like comes from your tap.

        • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday August 21, 2015 @02:19AM (#50359749) Homepage

          So, I'm no rocket surgeon ... but even I can imagine a closed system.

          You know, it evaporates, but it's still inside some kind of vessel. Then it condenses, and you magically have water again. The water can then be evaporated again. Bonus points if you can exchange some of the heat with a separate loop of water without mixing them. Or maybe some kind of thing to increase the surface area and cool it. I'm calling it a radiator.

          It's a new idea I just made up. Brand new and everything.

          you just told us that they are evaporating the water, so it would end up in the atmosphere

          Go the remedial section, look at several examples of closed systems and recirculation.

          A hockey arena, your kitchen, your car AC (or it's engine cooling system), a nuclear submarine .. these are all applications which exist right now which allow the equivalent to happen. All without dumping it straight into the atmosphere.

          Seriously ... WTF? Do you think magic happens inside of an air conditioner or a fridge?

          I can't speak to how well it works or what the limitations are ... but I can say that what you describe is, in fact, a solved problem.

          Unless of course you're imagining the streampunk data center, in which case venting the steam is just part of the awesome. But somehow, I don't think you meant that.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        The limits depend on the size of the gear. Power stations can cope with cooling water that is very dirty but the insides of the cooling towers look like the hanging gardens of Babylon, and there is plenty of "wildlife" in the water droplets so face masks are essential. All that algae etc cuts down on heat transfer but killing it instead of manually cleaning it means very nasty poisons and unintended consequences - eg. if there is a bit of silicon dissolved in the water that can mean a huge population of d
    • Water chillers do use large amounts of water. The usual method of chilling is a baffled tower that sprays or drops large amounts of water into a partial vacuum to cause evaporation. You see these in industrial air conditioning systems frequently. The water from the tower is then piped to a freon chiller which chills water that is in a closed loop down to about 50 degrees F. and then that water is piped through the building into coils that use fans to blow air through the chilled coils which cool roo
  • by ah.clem ( 147626 ) on Thursday August 20, 2015 @03:02PM (#50356561)

    Is anyone considering the local effects of warming the water in the harbors these centers will be docked in? It seems to me, given the current toxic algal bloom off the west coast of the US at the moment, we might be just a bit concerned, right?

    • by 1sockchuck ( 826398 ) on Thursday August 20, 2015 @03:14PM (#50356659) Homepage
      In a recent test, Nautilus says the water being returned to the bay was was just 4 degrees warmer than the intake temperature. Their design goal is to minimize the temperature differential to avoid any environmental impact. Having said that, the proof-of-concept test was with 5 racks of gear, rather than an 8 megawatt data center. They believe the design works, but it hasn't yet been tested at scale.
      • by starless ( 60879 )

        4 degrees (C??) seems fairly large.
        Even if their "goal is to minimize the temperature differential" presumably the energy they
        are dumping into the bay will be the same.
        e.g. faster flow will probably result in lower temperature differentials but applied to a larger quantity of water

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        In a recent test, Nautilus says the water being returned to the bay was was just 4 degrees warmer than the intake temperature. Their design goal is to minimize the temperature differential to avoid any environmental impact. Having said that, the proof-of-concept test was with 5 racks of gear, rather than an 8 megawatt data center. They believe the design works, but it hasn't yet been tested at scale.

        Without knowing the volume of water, "4 degrees" is meaningless. That's like saying "We run our servers at 60 volts instead of 120 volts, so they use half of the electricity.

    • Is anyone considering the local effects of warming the water in the harbors these centers will be docked in?

      does anyone consider the local effects of warming the air around these centers when they are on land?

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Water has a much higher heat capacity than air does. Water is also a much more effective growth-medium than air is. The environmental effects of heat on air do exist, but they aren't as substantial as they are for water.
    • Is anyone considering the local effects of warming the water in the harbors these centers will be docked in? It seems to me, given the current toxic algal bloom off the west coast of the US at the moment, we might be just a bit concerned, right?

      Artificial way to produce an "El Niño"... Environmentalists will be coming unglued... (Grin)

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Is anyone considering the local effects of warming the water in the harbors these centers will be docked in?

      If they are forced to use multiple outputs as power stations are forced to do then that problem goes away. Local warming is a cheapskate shortcut problem and not an inherent problem with the technology

  • Great for rusting

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yep. I used to work for a cruise line in IT. Each cruise ship is basically a floating data center because of all the things the computers are involved with. The infrastructure folks would say that it was the most hellish environment imaginable for servers and often kept multiple extras for any hardware on ship for when something failed.

      • The infrastructure folks would say that it was the most hellish environment imaginable for servers

        You lock your servers up in airtight steel containers, you have an infinite heat sink available for free, and you don't have to worry about finding an admin at whatever hour, because they are right there on the ship. Sounds a lot better than most installations.

    • The problem of salt-water corrosion is an old, well-understood one and to a large extent, it's mostly a matter of applying the standard solutions to it. As an example, there are bronze alloys specifically designed to resist salt water that are used for plumbing that needs to carry sea water. To a large extent, you can minimize the problems by using that for the external half of a heat exchange unit, and something far less corrosive for the internal half.
  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Thursday August 20, 2015 @03:05PM (#50356587) Homepage
    I can see it now, actual pirates stealing full boatloads of servers.
    • by Snake98 ( 911863 )
      Ya, Well call it The Pirate Bay
    • I can see it now, actual pirates stealing full boatloads of servers.

      Alternately:

      SysAdmin: The data centre is down.

      Manager: It crashed?

      SysAdmin: Yup.

      Manager: How long till it's back up?

      SysAdmin: Not sure, a few months maybe.

      Manager: A FEW MONTHS?!?! What the hell happened?? Can't you just reboot things?!?

      SysAdmin: Not really, a yacht crashed into it and it's sitting at the bottom of the harbour, it's going to take a few months to patch the hole and raise it back up to the surface.

      • Manager: How the hell did that happen?!

        SysAdmin: Hey, you are the one that though those surplus Phalanx systems were a waste of money....

    • Not only that, but servers that implemented every calculation in floats.
  • I'm skeptical that even at SF's inflated real estate prices that floating servers on a boat is cheaper than a ground-based datacenter. Marine structures are expensive to build and maintain and they have to pass regular USCG inspections. For cooling they could rent a warehouse near the bay and pump the water in.

    • having your servers on a ship can come in handy if your country suddenly decides to change its data retention laws

      • True, you just reflag the vessel to a country that has data retention laws you like and move into international waters.

        • by mcrbids ( 148650 )

          Running the fiber optic cables could get rather expensive though...

          • "Running the fiber optic cables could get rather expensive though.."

            Look at the proliferation of places where underwater cables are landed now. There would be no need to patch over to an interconnect point.

  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Thursday August 20, 2015 @03:29PM (#50356781)

    Is it really cheaper to build a barge than it is to circulate sea water to a land based facility?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Agreed. Putting this thing on a barge is expensive navel gazing. You wind up with the maintenance of a boat, wired connections that must be protected and yet are exposed. Someone's vision of "we'll use the resources of the ocean" got away from them.

      The only way a floating data centre makes any sense is if you actually need the mobility of being in a ship. If you do this for hire (e.g. temporary demand to support special events), or on an emergency services basis, or if you have unusual security requirem

      • "Put the DC onshore. Run pipes, they can be as long as you need"

        Good idea, especially if you want to make use of the waste heat when it emerges as hot water. But the Greens are going to object that in the event of a tsunami, the local groundwater is going to get contaminated with ones and zeroes. Windows malware could persist in the environment for generations to come.

    • Not even just the building location, but the rent. Harbor space is EXPENSIVE! Limited docking space options, maximum need. We're talking billions to have space to dock large vessels, as an example. The cost per acre is probably an order of magnitude higher, or more, than an inland data center.

  • It will be cheaper until the run smack into the environment regulations that limit how much you are allowed to heat a natural body of water. A data center won't be as bad as a power station using direct cycle cooling, but put enough of these "barge data centers" together in a single location, I presume they will congregate in areas of cheap power and high local bandwidth availability right? And you will hit the limits. Then you have to use much less efficient air to liquid or similar cooling towers anyway,
  • They could use the "Free" heat to boil the water to make distilled water and sell the distilled water!

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I thought of this, too. Is there a way to recover some of the waste heat and turn it back into electricity?

  • It's even better if you can find some water that already has to be heated. The college I went to looked at using pool water as their heat destination. Their calculations showed it could be 163% efficient. I don't think the backup data center it was designed for was ever built, but it still seams like a decent idea. http://www.calvin.edu/~mkh2/thermal-fluid_systems_desig/2010-data-center-seminar.pdf

  • If someone cut the lines keeping the barge moored to the pier. It would be funny watching all of those servers float away. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
  • I'll bet the discharge water won't meet environmental standards, even if it's the identical stuff taken from the ocean. There was one guy who had a business farming fish and he was using ocean water. His discharge was cleaner than the intake water, but it didn't matter; they wanted him to clean it even more. He ended up shutting down and moving the business to Hawaii rather than deal with the intransigence of the bureaucrats.
  • Nothing says rust like a steel barge that floats in salt water and breathes salt air.

    It is perhaps worth adding that here in the Northeast there is a powerful movement towards reclaiming the industrial waterfront for parks and green space.

    For the curious, 95 examples of used barges for sale:

    The add copy should be read like you were shopping for a second-hand boat in a "Monkey Island" game. Used Deck Barges [oceanmarine.com]

  • You need renewable power and cooling, plus stability and security, and connectivity to the rest of the world.

    So what does Guam have going for it?

    It is already a fibre hub. http://www.submarinecablemap.c... [submarinecablemap.com]

    It is less than 150 km north of the bottom of a very deep ocean trench. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    It is politically stable because it is a US territory. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • I would think Alaska or northern Canada would have significant advantages in the area of cooling. Running cooling pipes from the North Pacific or the Arctic Ocean would eliminate a lot of the cooling energy costs.
  • Can't we recycle the heat generated by data center to electricity?

UNIX was not designed to stop you from doing stupid things, because that would also stop you from doing clever things. -- Doug Gwyn

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