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Friday, September 26, 2008

Floating Data Centers

There are some creative data center ideas floating around. Google has apparently applied for a patent for a “water-based data center” that uses the ocean to provide power and cooling.

Bill St. Arnaud has been arguing for some time in his blog that, rather than bring the electricity from where it is generated to where the data center need is, we should instead bring the data center to where the electricity is generated. The underlying principle is that it is more energy-efficient to transport data over optical networks than to transport energy over power networks, so you minimize the distance you transport the power, and extend the distance you transport the data.

Perhaps we could combine these two ideas and position floating data centers underneath offshore wind turbines.

Of course, we also need to ensure we pay attention to unintended consequences. While discussing the Google floating data center idea recently at a sustainability meeting, I was asked whether data center equipment "buzzed" and, if so, would a floating data center interfere with the communications of whales. As the proposed barges use seawater for cooling, the average temperature around the barge would be higher than that of the surrounding water. Perhaps, someone speculated, that would attract algae and create a coating on the barge which would act as a sound absorber, so the whales would be OK!

Although I have presented these ideas in a light-hearted spirit, I think they, and the subsequent exchange, illustrate both the immense scope of the possibilities ahead of us to reduce emissions if we allow ourselves to think outside of the box. But, also the complex interactions that result, and which need to be taken into account as we move forward.

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