Google's Mysterious Floating Barges: Glass Stores or Data Centers?

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-10-29 Print this article Print

Rob Enderle, principal of Enderle Group, told eWEEK that the data center idea makes the most sense, especially if people consider that by placing the completed barges at least 200 miles off the U.S. coastline, Google's floating barges would no longer fall under the privacy and security regulations and authority of the U.S. government. There would be no more National Security Agency pressures on Google with such a plan, said Enderle.

"The reason that you do it as a data center is to push it over the 200-mile limit and take it out of their jurisdiction," said Enderle. "You just anchor it out there. There's really no other reason to put a data center on a barge in the ocean, especially with salt water. Yes, you have cooling, but salt water is not good for the equipment, unless you just want to get offshore."

On the other hand, said Enderle, the idea that Google is building floating showcases for its products is also at least possible. "Companies like General Electric and General Motors, years ago through the 1950s, had buses that would go around U.S. cities and show off their innovations. Google has Google Glass coming in the future, as well as self-driving cars. This could be a floating showcase for Google where they can tie the barges up and people can go and look."

Charles King, the principal analyst at Pund-IT, said the floating data center theory sounds most plausible, but he disagrees with some theorists who argue that Google may be contemplating the idea as a way to keep away from the pesky interests of spy agencies. "Some have said Google may be planning to anchor the barge outside U.S. or other countries' territorial waters in order to make it 'spook-proof,' but I frankly consider that idea idiotic in the extreme," wrote King in an email reply. "Not only would it complicate data transmission issues even further but it would also subject the facilities to far higher levels of risk from weather, external political forces, piracy, etc."

Dan Kusnetzky, principal analyst of Kusnetzky Group, agreed that the floating data center possibility is valid, especially because of Google's past experiences with shipping containers. "Google has done quite a bit of experimentation with shipping container data centers in the past," he wrote. "This allowed them to rent space where the property and telecommunications costs were low. The small data center could be monitored and managed remotely as well as reduce the costs for administration and operations."

Future upgrades could be done by simply rolling in a new shipping container and removing the old one with its outdated equipment, wrote Kusnetzky. "The older systems could easily be replaced at a depot and the shipping container reused somewhere else."

Another analyst, Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting Group, told eWEEK that he's betting on the floating Google Glass stores as the use for the ingenious barges. "If you remember, Target did this back in 2002 in New York City," when the chain opened a temporary store on a barge at Manhattan's Chelsea Pier for the Christmas holidays when it couldn't find an affordable, short-term location for a brick and mortar storefront in the city, said Olds. "It was pretty successful."

Meanwhile, "look at all the publicity value Google is getting out of this," said Olds. "Look at the news coverage they're getting," all of which could help further boost the success of floating Glass stores if that's the real reason behind the projects.

One problem for Google, though, could come if Glass doesn't hit the consumer marketplace soon, he added. "The latest scuttlebutt is that Glass isn't ready now, which leaves them between a barge and a hard place," said Olds. "I guess we'll find out soon."


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