A few friends have asked me to speculate about what Google is doing with the mysterious barge they are building in the San Francisco harbor. Here are comments from "brainstorming" and "speculation" sessions I've taken part in since the announcement. My ZDnet colleague, Larry Dignan, also commented on this news in the post Google makes waves and may have solved the data center conundrum.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it is an experimental floating data center. Google has done quite a bit of experimentation with shipping container data centers in the past. This approach appears to offer them some benefits:
- This allowed them to rent or purchase property in places in which property and telecommunications costs were low. It is also far easier to get local regulators to allow the installation of a small concrete pad and set up a remote shipping container having both electric and network connections than it is to get all of the approvals necessary to construct a complete traditional data center.
- The small "data center" could be monitored and managed remotely as well reducing the costs for administration and operations. Google’s use of virtualization technology makes it possible for workloads to route around failed components and continue to function. Google would then have the option of running a “lights out” operation in the shipping container data center.
- When it was time to upgrade, a new shipping container could be rolled out to the site and the old one taken away. The older systems could easily be replaced at a depot and the shipping container reused somewhere else
- It appears that Google's strategy is to run their systems in a hotter than usual data center environment. After all shipping containers are not likely to have the air conditioning equipment found in a data center. While this approach can drastically reduce the life of some systems and storage, Google has been able to make this work well enough in other places to use this approach again. Since their primary applications are stateless, if a system does fail, the task is merely restarted somewhere else. So, Google doesn’t care if a single system or, perhaps, an entire shipping container data center goes off line.
While this approach might not be useful for all data center operators, it could be very helpful to a company like Google.
While no one really knows what Google is doing except Google, it is a fun story to consider.