The future of data centers appears to be a move from the land to the sea, with power coming from the movement of the water and cooling coming directly from the ocean. Google was granted a patent for a floating data center this week, allowing it to license out the technology to third parties if it should so choose.
Google's application for a "water based data center" patent was filed in February of 2007 and published last year. It describes "a floating platform-mounted computer data center comprising a plurality of computing units, a sea-based electrical generator in electrical connection with the plurality of computing units, and one or more sea-water cooling units for providing cooling to the plurality of computing units."
The majority of the patent deals with the logistics of ship-based data centers, though it also examines the use of wave power, tidal power, and seawater for providing electricity and cooling to land-based data centers that are close enough to water.
Of course, there's nothing to stop Google from deploying a floating data center powered by conventional fuel sources, but such a vessel would be more limited by range or fuel capacity. Not only would it have to carry enough fuel to power itself, it would also have to make sure to power the systems it carries. Using a water-based generator would not only be more practical and efficient, it's also a significantly greener solution.
Despite the patent, however, Google may not be the first company to send its data centers out to sea. A Silicon Valley startup called International Data Security (IDS) announced in January 2008 its intent to set up a fleet of data-serving cargo ships. These ships would not only come with standard storage services, but also with amenities such as private offices, overnight accommodations, and galley services. The first ship was scheduled to set sail (or rather, hang out in San Francisco's Pier 50) in April of 2008, but according to a blog post by IDS partner Silverback Migration Solutions, that plan got pushed to third quarter 2008 and we were unable to find any further information on the project.
Silverback acknowleded Google's patent in September, however, noting that IDS and Google appear to be planning different implementations of the floating data center. If that's the case, then it's likely that the two won't be stepping on each other's toes. However, if other companies decide to implement floating solutions similar to Google's in the future, they may find themselves having to pay licensing fees.