‚ÄòTis true me hardies, the day o’ big data centers on the seven seas be upon us all. So cast off yer land lubberin’ server farms an’ hoist the main sail. We’re settin’ these servers afloat ‚Äòfore ye feel the bite of me floggin’ whip. Arrr.
Well, we’ve talked about data centers in salt mines, in abandoned ICBM silos, in renovated shopping malls, and now… on boats. ‚Big boats.
This one has been hard to get much information on, because the company is being stealthy about details. A firm by the name of International Data Security (IDS) has acquired a fleet of decommissioned cargo ships, and plans to outfit them as floating data centers. The first is said to be going online at Pier 50 in San Francisco imminently.
Before you say either, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “These guys must be crazy,” consider the following points:
First, these ships are big and sturdy. ‚ÄòReally big. According to IDS, there’s 200,000 SF of space available below deck to use for IT floor and office space. These ships were built for carrying cargo containers, so guess what? That’s right; the space above deck can be used for even more IT space by dropping in container data center units. What a match!
Secondly, remember what makes these big ships move- really large diesel engines. You guessed it again. These can be repurposed as large generators. Using the ship’s massive fuel tanks (with bio diesel) these can provide operation without utility power for a full month. Wow.
Thirdly, what about cooling that 200,000+ SF of servers and storage? You guessed right again- sea water…. Right there all around the ship. The excess heat from the cooling water is to be pumped within the ship to warm crew compartments, which is intended to improve the efficiency of the mechanical systems but also to minimize thermal impact to the immediate area occupied by the vessel.
IDS plans to outfit 50 of these vessels in this way. Twenty-two of them are targeted for deployment in the USA and the others elsewhere.
Ok, so we get the point about the ready-made large space, the built-in generator capability, and natural source of water for cooling… but what’s the business case? Well, if you’ve not guessed already, there are a number of pretty compelling cases.
One obvious case is the idea of mobility for very large and dense computing footprints, either for disaster recovery purposes or primary facilities. The government vertical certainly has use cases for such a scenario.
Another case is the mundane benefit of having a data center nearby, but not taking up space on land. Customers in large coastal cities (e.g., New York, San Francisco) could make great use of such a facility docked at a nearby port. The idea of floating casinos in the Gulf of Mexico comes to mind as well. There are data processing activities that are restricted by state and local laws but still have an audience. Looking at this from the opposite direction, perhaps an offshore data processing platform could be a friendly island for more noble data processing applications that are otherwise at risk due to politics. Placing that data processing just offshore could be an answer someone is waiting for.
Speaking of borders and data processing, one has to wonder what sorts of international data storage and transmission laws would be encountered as a platform like this actually sails. I’ve stumbled over Patriot Act issues, for example, with Clients who have customers outside the USA but data centers inside the USA, and there are many national and international laws that would be encountered by this new capability.
Shiver me timbers, scurvy dogs,… intarstin’ t’ see how this goes.