Data Centers on Cargo Ships?

A Bay Area startup is planning to build data centers on cargo container ships, according to Kenneth Jamaca at Silverback Migration Solutions. Jamaca said the company, known as IDS (International Data Security), is planning to build up to 50 data centers on de-commissioned cargo ships, including 22 in North America.

IDS told Jamaca that their first initial space will be available at Pier 50 in San Francisco in the beginning of April, and that the company has signed anchor tenants. “These ships will live in port in their designated cities, and will rely on standard connectivity for power and network,” Jamaca writes. Using cargo ships allows for flexibility and the ability to expand based on the availability of ships and port space, rather than real estate.

IDS apparently plans to develop the below-deck areas as data center space, and use deck space to house container-based data centers like Project Blackbox from Sun Microsystems or Rackable’s ICE Cube. A sales brochure (PDF) for IDS pictures 14 black containers aboard an oil tanker. The brochure says IDS plans to use biodiesel to power its generators and use heat from equipment to manage temperature on board the ships, reducing their reliance on grid power.

IDS is led by CEO Ken Choi and President Richard Naughton, according to Silverback. Choi is also CEO of Quantum Route, a Mountain View, Calif. company specializing in RFID technology. Naughton is a former Navy admiral and superintendent of the Naval Academy, who also headed the Navy’s transportation command and served as CEO of Xenonics, which makes night vision products for the military.

Check out our full list of data centers in strange places.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.


  1. dws

    Isn't the availability of port space going to be an issue? How much power/connectivity is there at a port? And who would want to have his servers surrounded by salt water (and salty air)??

  2. BLP

    Port space may be an issue is some locations, but there are plenty of old piers in port cities that no longer are used for cargo operations and can then be rented for this purpose. The salt air issue is not one that is a problem. All data center spaces are protected with fully conditioned air. The Navy has had sophisticated data centers on war ships for decades without salt air causing a problem.

  3. CORRECTIONS: Some corrections to my original blog post - which propogated here... -- IDS is planning on deployting 22 ships in North America and 50 ships worldwide, not 22 worldwide. -- Also, I have only spoken with IDS sales staff, not the company principals. -- I am told they are now out of stealth mode.

  4. I would think the rocking motion might not be ideal. It's gotta be cheaper to the end user than traditional locations. I can see this only being worthwhile in the more expensive (real estate values) downtown markets. Alex Kent The Datacenter Practice Studley-Palo Alto

  5. rush

    I live on the Gulf Coast. There are about 6 months out of each year I wouldn't want my servers anywhere near me.

  6. Mark Reiley

    The terms "Tsunami" and "Hurricane" come to mind when listing a project like this as "secure from natural disasters"

  7. Thom

    I guess I'd have a few concerns. 1)The (slight) risk of terrorism. Our ports are one of our weakest areas when looked at relative to their target value. I'd want my datacenter somewhere secure and hardened. 2) The risk of foul weather or natural disaster (tsunami, also slight) damaging or destroying the center. 3) General security. Over and above the typical data center employees a ship is going to need a wide variety of crew to keep it operational and afloat. Certainly honest and dependable crew can be found in all fields but I'd bank on a company operating docked ships cutting costs by using the dregs of the dockyards to operate the ship. 4) Further cost cutting and related security dangers. It's very common for ship owners to register their ships in whatever country offers the greatest tax advantages. Now, imagine that happening here and, after tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of other's hardware and data are about ship, the ship suddenly sets sail and "all your hardware and data are belong to us," so you have to buy it back or fight to retrieve it in another (possibly hostile) country's courts since that's where the shipis registered.

  8. prometheusg

    Power and connectivity are not a problem at ports. There are shore connections at most major ports. Salt is not much of a problem once you get into the innards of a ship. They can use positive ventilation to keep the unconditioned air outside the sensitive spaces. Rocking is not significant on ships the size they are talking about in port. A fully loaded oil tanker can easily weigh over 100,000 tons. It takes good size waves to rock something like that more than a fraction of a degree. - What I don't fully get is what the waste heat is going to be used for... seems like you want to be cooling things off in a data center, not heating stuff up. *my two cents as a former Navy man and current mariner*

  9. jlc

    Rocking motion? Not tied to the pier in a sheltered anchor.

  10. Bryan

    I cannot resist: What do you do when your datacenter sinks?

  11. blazespinnaker

    Well, there might be some hidding value proposition here (ie, the ability to detach and move beyond legal juristiction), but from a simple engineering point of view .. it's gotta be the stupidest idea I've ever heard.

  12. Charles Soto

    I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico, and while I agree hurricanes are a real problem, let's not forget that ships are very easy to protect against them. With sufficient warning, you can move the whole datacenter to a less risky port. If you have "sites" replicated to each other in pairs, you just temporarily take one "site" offline, float it somewhere safer, then return it once the disaster is past. The US Coast Guard definitely had their act together during Katrina. I read an account 2 days before landfall of their entire Gulf operations being mobilized. They moved everything out of harm's way, and positioned them to be ready to move back in immediately following the storm. This sort of event is manageable. Now think of how long it took (if ever) to restore terrestrial datacenters in LA, MS, AL, etc. Ships and cargo containers (e.g. Sun's Project Blackbox) are a really brilliant idea that bears exploration.

  13. Bob

    By and large there should be no noticable rocking on a ship of any size at dock. The one exception would be during a storm. If it were a sufficiently large storm, like a hurricane, the ship would HAVE to leave port just as Naval vessels do. When that storm surge comes in, along with the wind, even an enormous ship can carried inland and grounded, have it's hull breached and sink, or destroy piers. I hope all data transfer can be halted or it's all satellite or wireless. I ditto the thought on waste heat being used. Certainly heat can be used to drive refrigeration units (early refrigerators used a flame) and generate electricity, but I don't know how efficient or realistic this claim is.

  14. Meh

    When is the Counterstrike mod coming out? Also, Alex- not a good idea to post your phone number online. This story just got slashdotted.

  15. Jeff

    Yes sounds like storms are manageable, but I imagine the real advantage is if the "real estate" savings outweigh the additional tech costs. But here's the million dollar question : Why is one better off putting data centers on ships instead of new apartments? Are data centers more profitable? Or are old ports just too ugly?

  16. mino

    Many people forget that datacenters generate huge ammounts of heat. Guest what, heat is not a problem on a ship.

  17. greg

    nothing new, i have my asus mobo floating in liquid hehehe and its breathing ;)