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 […]

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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  1. Salt water chillers are no panacea, believe me. Fouling, back-flushing, brine removal, environmental permitting for near-shore use, effluent and other, etc.

    It’s loads of fun, and may not offset the power and cooling costs they are so keen to recoup. On the other hand, maybe they only need 2-4% of the power savings of a typical solution.

    I think that power should be saved at the point of consumption, and that centralized DC supplies for a set of racks would greatly reduce the hysteresis losses of the switchers in a typical server rack.

  2. I agree that this will be an interesting development to watch. There should be a more formal write up on pros/cons as compared to other datacenter models. I’d like to see something simple.

  3. And I can’t wait to read the risk factors “sharks, whales, dolphins, and submarines may disrupt the operations of our data centers”. . .

  4. Google: And then, we annex Sealand! — mathewingram.com/work Thursday, September 18, 2008

    [...] this idea isn’t unique to Google: a startup called International Data Security is working on a similar plan, although it proposes to use decommissioned ships docked in various harbours and served by fibre [...]

  5. IDS to Float Data Center on the Bay | Eco Friendly Mag Thursday, September 18, 2008

    [...] like Google isn’t alone with its idea to float a data center on the sea. Om Malik points out a stealthy startup called International Data Security, which plans to build 50 sea-worthy data [...]

  6. IT’s About Uptime – The StackSafe Blog » Blog Archive » Links List 9.19.08 Friday, September 19, 2008

    [...] its own computer navy. The data centers provide alternative energy efforts (tidal wave power) and the fleet will be tax [...]

  7. Green Blogs » Blog Archive » IDS Plans Floating Data Centers Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    [...] Google filed a patent around the concept of a ship-based data center that relies on wave power earlier this month, but it appears that IDS is actually outdoing what Google has so far only proposed. The start-up plans to build 50 such data centers, 22 of which will be located in the U.S., according to a report by Om Malik. [...]

  8. 3 Ways to Cut Data Center Energy Use from Sun’s Efficiency Guru « Earth2Tech Tuesday, October 7, 2008

    [...] and computing demands, on the rise, the trend makes sense. Companies across the board, from Sun to Google to Advanced Data Centers to International Data Security, are innovating on a variety of ways to [...]

  9. Internet Evolution – Deborah Nason – The Net Takes Data Centers in New Directions Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    [...] a similar vein, bloggers have been speculating over the past few months about a plan to build data centers on decommissioned ships. San Francisco-based IDS hopes to build 50 such [...]

  10. How is IDS doing with their floating colo data Centers? How many ships did they comissioned at Pier50?

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