Did Google Shelve Its Portable Data Center?

There are indications that Google (GOOG) may have discontinued its program to develop a portable data center.

Google (GOOG) made some headlines last month when it was awarded a U.S. patent for a portable data center in a shipping container, prompting discussion of how it might use a "data center in a box," as well as what the patent might mean for similar products from Sun Microsystems (JAVAD) and Rackable (RACK). Google's interest in containerized data centers have been the focus of much speculation since PBS columnist Robert X. Cringley wrote about the effort in 2005.

It turns out that one of the inventors listed on the Google patent, William Whitted, has said publicly that the portable data center project has been discontinued. Whitted, who retired from Google in 2005, spoke about the project in a San Francisco Chronicle story in January of this year. Whitted's comments were part of a much longer profile about Google retirees, and weren't widely noticed at the time. Here's what the Chron reported:

"One of the ideas (Whitted) championed was to build portable data centers in cargo containers, a project Google tested in its headquarters parking lot. But managers were too timid to pack in enough servers, so the experiment was not cost-effective and was ultimately canceled, he said."

We doubt this will end speculation about Google's portable data centers, but it's a data point worth noting.