Remember the speculation about Google deploying an army of datacenter-in-a-box shipping containers? The suggestion, based on a patent filing and a rumored prototype hidden somewhere in Mountain View, was that Google would take advantage of shipping containers as self-sufficient datacenters and somehow disrupt the marketplace. Of course, this completely ignored the economics of scale and more importantly, the reality of actually doing it… and today we are treated to a new speculation based yet again on a patent filing.
Instead of an army of container datacenters, now Google is rumored to be considering a navy of datacenter barges floating just offshore.
The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres, which are sited across the world, including in Britain.
The article in the Times offers few tactical details and gets a few things wrong. First of all, they state that the barges will be anchored 7 miles from land giving them offshore status, but neglect to point out that territorial waters are about 14 miles offshore and these things called “exclusive economic zones” run for about another 230 miles, meaning these datacenters would still remain very much in the jurisdiction of whatever country’s waters they are residing in. Property taxes? Who knows but there are ample marine fees that would be attached to them. I simply don’t believe that property taxes alone are a material financial hit for Google.
Secondly, I’m not buying the argument that wave energy alone would power these things so they will either have to sink a power cable or provide backup power. Anyone know how expensive it is to sink an undersea cable? I looked it up, about $75k per mile for data cables, which they will need anyway because how else will the datacenters communicate with land?
Lastly, there are security concerns relative to an expensive asset that is many many miles from the nearest law enforcement support, and inherently mobile. How will they staff these locations? House personnel on site for 1, 2, or 3 days shifts? Anyone who has ever had a boat knows how maintenance schedules go into overdrive for anything sitting in sea water, which not only attacks the structure but the corrosive air attacks everything inside as well.