Google has filed a patent for what the New York Times describes as “mobile data center platforms out at sea.”
This means “stacking containers filled with servers, storage systems and networking gear on barges or other platforms.” These would be “‘crane-removable’ data center modules on ships.” From the actual patent application:
In general, computing centers are located on a ship or ships, which are then anchored in a water body from which energy from natural motion of the water may be captured, and turned into electricity and/or pumping power for cooling pumps to carry heat away from computers in the data center.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in this era of alternative energy sources, “Google has theorized about powering these ocean data centers with energy gained just from water splashing against the side of the barges.”
[Image: From Google’s patent application for servers at sea; via the New York Times].
I have to assume, then, that we’re moving ever closer to true deep-water city-states – only they won’t be libertarian ocean-going homesteads, after all, they’ll be distributed networks of supercomputing villages afloat on, and drawing power from, the tides.
Two weeks ago, meanwhile, the NYTimes also looked at the privatization of civic infrastructure – but perhaps Google’s literally offshore experiment in information technology implies a coming world of privatized services at sea.
A fleet of tankers shows up in a nearby port one day… and suddenly your city has telephone services. It’s Archigram‘s instant city all over again, but on the level of specific – and highly billable – urban amenities.
The services show up. The network takes over.
Your city will never be the same.
I’m further reminded of the five-week-long power outage that struck Auckland, New Zealand, just slightly more than ten years ago. Peter Gutmann describes some of the possible ship-borne solutions to that city’s loss of electricity:
Apparently the idea of moving ships from the naval base on the other side of the harbour across to the Auckland waterfront to act as floating generators was considered, but there are problems with feeding the power from the ships to the city. There’s also the problem that there’s nothing around which can generate even a fraction of the power required. Another idea which was considered is using one of the Cook Straight ferries (which could in theory provide around 10MW) as a floating generator (the term “ferry” is a considerable understatement). Currently a couple of waterfront businesses are being run with power from ships acting as floating generators, and when both repaired cables failed their testing, Mercury finally brought in a diesel-electric trans-Tasman freighter, the Union Rotorua, to act as a 12MW floating generator, and is considering bringing in another ship or installing generators on barges.
In any case, the seafaring future of civic infrastructure is something we’ll have to keep our eyes on. Entire new untold types of urban experience could be yours the minute that strange shape on the horizon comes in to dock.