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Does Google's floating data center plan hold water?

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 30, 2013
Speculation swirls around two mysterious barges as officials remain tight-lipped

With speculation swirling that two mysterious barges on either side of the U.S. are evidence Google's working on floating data centres, analysts say the company would have a lot of obstacles to overcome for that idea to become a reality.

"It's not that far fetched," said David Cappuccio, a vice president and chief of research at Gartner Inc. "You have to be somebody of Google's size to even consider this."

The two barges -- one docked in San Francisco Bay and the other docked in the harbor in Portland, Me. -- produced a barrage of questions and rumors in those communities. Then people realised the two barges are owned by the same company and have very similar names, prompting even more speculation.

The barges each carry a large, structure seemingly comprised of shipping containers. They're about 40 feet wide and 70 to 80 feet long.

It's widely thought that Google owns the structures, which could be carrying floating data centers, Google Glass stores or Apple-like Google retail operations.

Google has not responded to multiple requests for information on the barges.

Fueling the speculation, though, is the level of secrecy around them.

Portland officials say they don't know what's on the barge docked in the harbor and the local Coast Guard station reported that only the captain there knows what's onboard.

A worker at The Cianbro Co., the construction company contracted to work on the barge in Maine, told a reporter taking photos of the barge on Monday to leave the property. Today, Cianbro CEO Pete Vigue told Computerworld that there is little he can say about the project.

"It is docked at our wharf," said Vigue. "I'm not allowed to make any comments on our involvement or what we're doing or what is happening at our facility. There is a very strict non-disclosure agreement."

He did add that he thinks this will be positive for the state of Maine. "I think it's very positive and we'll leave it at that," he said.

The barge carrying the mysterious structure from New London, Conn. to Maine, was brought into the Portland harbor by the tugboat Rowan W. McAllister earlier this month. A person answering the phone at Portland Tugboat said no one at the firm was told what's inside the structure or what it will be used for.

According to Google's patent, which was filed in 2007 and issued in 2009, the floating data center would be built with modular units such as standard shipping containers that could be hauled on ships or trucks and then lifted by crane onto the data centre platform.

The data centre servers would be mounted in rack arrays, meaning they can be easily traded out just by swapping the containers when newer technology is available or if hardware becomes corroded by the harsh salt water environment.


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