Google has patented the idea of putting a complete data centre in a shipping container.
The concept is particularly useful when temporary, mobile data centres need to be set up, such as in disaster-recovery situations. The mobile data centres can be transported by truck and quickly assembled and come with power and cooling systems pre-installed.
Google has been experimenting with the concept for the past two years. Its patent, which was granted earlier this week, is for a "modular data centre with modular components suitable for use with rack or shelf-mount computing systems".
The patent is quite general and covers containers that both do, and do not, conform to ISO international standards.
According to the technology columnist, Robert X Cringley, Google first mooted the idea of installing a data centre in a shipping container two years ago, but he points out that the idea is older than that.
In 2003, Bruce Baumgart and Matt Laue wrote an article called Petabyte Box for Internet Archive, that outlined a proposal, with pictures, for a computer system working in a standard container.
But more recently, in May, Sun went on tour with its own hardware in a shipping container, which it used to demonstrate the concept to prospective customers.