By Joanna Fletcher

What ever happened to the revolutionary floating data center that won Time Magazine’s most innovative invention for 2008 for Google? This fascinating patent was filed two years ago — so will Google be dominating the waves any time soon?

Building a Future

As of last week, Google had this to say about the current status of the project: “We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with. Some of those ideas later mature into real products, services or infrastructure, some don’t. We do a lot to make our infrastructure scalable and cost efficient, but at this time we have nothing to announce regarding this specific technology.” Emily Wood, Google.

Floating a Solution

The floating data center described in the patent could theoretically meet Google’s needs for stable, secure and sustainable power for its servers. Basically, the floating computers would capture wave energy for clean power and use the ocean as a heat sink by using sea water to keep the servers cool. Although a design sketch is included, it is at the conceptual stage, requiring much more work and prototyping before it can be proved a viable project.

Are You Being Served?

The powerful servers that deal with all the behind-the-scenes work for Google are mission-critical. The ability to search and return data almost instantly is the foundation of Google’s entire business. Dreaming up innovative solutions to the massive electricity needs of processors and their refrigeration is just good sense; likewise, patenting anything promising protects this intellectual capital until it is time to use it.

National jurisdictions extend only a few miles out to sea from the land base. No-one owns the oceans, so Google will be free to operate independent of political goodwill or stability. Unfortunately, this independence also means that no one polices the oceans. The type of technology described in the patent is likely to be very attractive to lots of different groups, and thus likely to be stolen. Although wave energy is a free and sustainable resource, the center described in the patent will produce significant heat pollution. The debate over the net environmental impact of data centers that produce green power while creating heat pollution has yet to begin.

Google requires enormous computing power to do what it seems effortless to the final user. Any attempts to minimize their environmental impact without degrading their service should be applauded.

About the Author

Joanna Fletcher is a netizen who has lived, worked, and played in virtual space for most of her life. Her entrepreneurial flair is topped only by her tolerance for failure.

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