by American Kabuki
Google has created a four story barge of stacked containerized servers according to San Francisco TV station KPIX. The salty monstrosity of a data warehouse has no permit for its permanent anchoring in the high tech city's bay.
Yahoo News reports:
There’s just one major problem: many of these same experts say Google hasn’t sought the proper permits to open any such operation.
“Google has spent millions on this,” one anonymous source close to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) told the station. “But they can’t park this barge on the waterfront without a permit, and they don’t have one.”
A second source confirmed that Google has inquired about “hypothetical operations” that would be water-based but has not specified how or for what purpose any such enterprise would be employed.
Another challenging facing any such enterprise would be in justifying why Google would need the new operation to be water-based.
“The law is crystal clear in this case: The Bay is not to be used for something that can be built on land,” BCDC director Larry Goldzband told the station.
The barge is 250 feet long, 72 feet wide, and 16 feet deep, and was built in 2011 in Belle Chasse, La., by C & C Marine and Repair. Its registration number is BAL 0010. Behind it is a perfect view of the new eastern span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. On top is a four-story-tall modular building made from shipping containers and sporting 12 tall white spires that look like they could be anything from masts to flagpoles to antennas. The containers each have three narrow slits for windows, and there is a stairway on the northeast corner that goes from ground level to the top. There's also one container on that side that slants to the ground at a 45-degree angle. Wrapped mostly in dark netting, the structure doesn't reveal what's inside.Supporting the sea based water cooling theory of a server farm is this 2009 article on Google's patented cargo containers that are water cooled.
Joel Egan, the principal at Cargotecture, which designs custom cargo container buildings, said the structure looks like a data center. "The cutouts in the long walls of the containers, when they line up, they make hallways," Egan said. "You could put all sorts of mainframes into the containers...It doesn't have enough windows for an office building."
Egan also said that putting a data center on a barge would provide access to abundant water -- a key for cooling large numbers of servers.
Asked if the theoretical concept of a floating data center made practical sense, Jonathan Koomey, a Stanford research fellow and expert on data centers responded by listing a number of advantages such a system would offer. Although saltwater could be problematic as a cooling source, he said, it's a surmountable problem. "It wouldn't surprise me at all," Koomey said, before seeing any pictures of the project on the barge, "if there were a bunch of containers, and it turned out to be data center." After being shown pictures of the barge, however, Koomey said that there was nothing conclusive in them to indicate that it was a data center.
But companies like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and others have been installing specially built data centers in shipping containers for some time because they're easy to deploy. And Google even has a patent for the concept.
Perhaps more persuasive is that in 2009, Google was granted a patent for a "water-based data center," defined as a "system [that] includes 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...computing units."
Electricity leaves computers will leave as waste heat, which roughly requires as much power in air conditioning to remove that heat. A sea based cooling system would save a huge amount of electricity.
Four years after the first reports of server-packed shipping containers lurking in parking garages, Google today confirmed its use of data center containers and provided a group of industry engineers with an overview of how they were implemented in the company’s first data center project in the fall of 2005. “It’s certainly more fun talking about it than keeping it a secret,” said Google’s Jimmy Clidaras, who gave a presentation on the containers at the first Google Data center Efficiency Summit today in Mountain View, Calif.
The Google facility features a “container hanger” filled with 45 containers, with some housed on a second-story balcony. Each shipping container can hold up to 1,160 servers, and uses 250 kilowatts of power, giving the container a power density of more than 780 watts per square foot. Google’s design allows the containers to operate at a temperature of 81 degrees in the cold aisle. Those specs are seen in some advanced designs today, but were rare indeed in 2005 when the facility was built.
Google’s design focused on “power above, water below,” according to Clidaras, and the racks are actually suspended from the ceiling of the container. The below-floor cooling is pumped into the hot aisle through a raised floor, passes through the racks and is returned via a plenum behind the racks. The cooling fans are variable speed and tightly managed, allowing the fans to run at the lowest speed required to cool the rack at that moment.
“Water was a big concern,” said Urs Holzle, who heads Google’s data center operations. “You never know how well these couplings (on the water lines) work in real life. It turns out they work pretty well. At the time, there was nothing to go on.”
Google was awarded a patent on a portable data center in a shipping container in October 2008, confirming a 2005 report from PBS columnist Robert Cringley that the company was building prototypes of container-based data centers in a garage in Mountain View. Containers also featured prominently in Google’s patent filing for a floating data center that generates its own electricity using wave energy.
Holzle said today that Google opted for containers from the start, beginning its prototype work in 2003. At the time, Google housed all of its servers in third-party data centers. “Once we saw that the commercial data center market was going to dry up, it was a natural step to ask whether we should build one,” said Holzle.
The data center facility, referred to as Data Center A, spans 75,000 square feet and has a power capacity of 10 megawatts. The facility has a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.25, and when the container load is measured across the entire hangar floor space, it equates to a density of 133 watts per square foot. Google didn’t identify the facility’s location, but the timeline suggests that it’s likely one of the facilites at Google’s three-building data center complex in The Dalles, Oregon.
Business Insider insists is not a data center but a platform for promoting Google Glass:
The barge has been covered, leading to initial speculation from Daniel Terdiman at CNET that it was building a floating data center. The data center report seems to be inaccurate.
Terdiman walked back his report with an update that said, "After our story ran on Friday, I was contacted by someone who said he had knowledge that the project in the works is a Google store of some kind. The tipster, who is well-connected in Silicon Valley but asked to remain anonymous, told me that he had heard from multiple sources at Google that the company plans to float the Glass stores from city to city by rivers, and that the idea for the project came straight from either Larry Page or Sergey Brin, Google's founders. Finally, he said, the idea is in part that Google wants to launch stores without looking like they are trying to chase Apple."