The U.S. Patent Office has awarded Google a patent for its proposal for a floating data center that uses the ocean to provide power and cooling. Google's patent application was filed in Feb. 2007, published in October 2008 and approved on Tuesday (and quickly noted by SEO by the Sea).
The patent application describes floating data centers that would be located 3 to 7 miles from shore, in 50 to 70 meters of water. If perfected, this approach could be used to build 40 megawatt data centers that don’t require real estate or property taxes.
The Google design incorporates wave energy machines (similar to Pelamis Wave Energy Converter units) which use the motion of ocean surface waves to create electricity and can be combined to form “wave farms.” The patent documents describe a cooling system based on sea-powered pumps and seawater-to-freshwater heat exchangers.
Does Google have any intention of actually building these floating data centers? Many in the data center community are deeply skeptical about the concept, and find it difficult to believe that Google would ever pursue such a project.
So here's the interesting precedent: In December 2003 Google applied for a patent for a portable data center in a shipping container, which was awarded in Oct. 2007. At last month's Efficient Data Center Summit, we learned that Google deployed its first container data center in the fall of 2005, less than two years after filing its patent application.
For argument's sake, if we assumed a similar timeline of two years from patent filing to production for the water-based data center, that would give us a deployment date of ... early 2009. One other interesting connection: the details of Google's container data center were presented by Jimmy Clidaras, who is one of the inventors listed on the patent for the water-based data center.
Is this a serious, real-world design? Even Google's data center team has joked about the "Google Navy" concept. Given that Google waited nearly four years to go public with its container data center, we probably won't have an answer anytime soon. Just in case, we've reached out to Google for comment.