Sitting by the Dock of the Bay: Your Data Center

Earlier this month, the blogosphere was lit up with stories of Google filing a patent around the concept of data centers on the sea that use wave power — essentially retrofitted ships and barges that would be docked 3-7 miles from shore, in 50-70 meters of water. While they might sound like something an evil villain in a James Bond thriller would build, the concept is actually not that far-fetched. In fact, one stealthy startup is currently working on building one of its many data centers on the sea: International Data Security.

All told, San Francisco-based IDS plans to build 50 such floating data centers — 22 in the U.S. and the rest worldwide. Old, decommissioned ships will be retrofitted and permanently housed at a pier where they will be connected to the Internet via fiber and get power from traditional utility connections. The company is also going to have microwave wireless backup connections.

IDS was started by Ken Choi, who is also the CEO, while Richard Noughton, a former U.S. Navy admiral, is the president. From what I’ve been able to learn, the company’s first ship will be docked on Pier 50 in San Francisco. And because the data center ship will be on the water, the theory goes, less power would be needed to cool the entire facility, which would in turn lower the costs of operating the data center.

Richard Donaldson, COO of UnitedLayer, a San Francisco-based managed hosting provider, turned me on to IDS. The news of its floating data center ambitions was first reported by our friend Rich Miller. Since then I have pieced together some more information.

There are many caveats around IDS and its plans. For instance, it is not clear how much funding the company has available, and when it will launch the proposed data center in San Francisco.

Some critics believe that data centers in salt water, surrounded by salty air aren’t such a good idea. Power is another issue: While a ship can float away to a safer location in case of a problem, the ship would need considerable backup power to keep the servers on. Even then, it couldn’t really go too far away from the microwave towers that feed backup bandwidth.

Kooky as these ideas of floating data centers seem, data-center industry executives think that they are a good way to deal with the real-estate crunch in markets where demand for data centers is at a premium. San Jose, San Francisco and New York are three such examples, mostly because large corporations and web companies want to house their machines in buildings to which they can drive.

Anyway, stay tuned as I try and dig up more on the progress of IDS and how close they might actually get to their floatilla of data-center ships.

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