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November 1, 2013

Google's Mysterious Barges

So tonight, I became aware that Google has two mysterious, secretive barges. One in SF Bay moored illegally on Treasure Island. One on the east coast in a harbor in Portland, Maine.

These both showed up recently, and Google is being very discreet about them. They're not saying a word. This, of course, leads to rampant speculation about what they are and why they're there.

Essentially, what it looks like is that Google is setting up some floating data centers. It's well-documented that Google has a patent awarded in 2008 on the concept of a floating data center that generates electricity from the ocean, and cools the computers with heat exchanged with the ocean. In fact, Time Magazine even listed Google's Floating Data Center patent as one of the best inventions of 2008.

"The hidden cost of the triumph of the Internet is the rise of the data center. The Net runs on huge complexes of hot, power-hungry servers that eat up real estate and energy in massive quantities -- in 2006 data centers consumed a staggering 1.5% of the U.S.'s entire supply of electricity. Engineers at Google may have found a way out: the self-sufficient floating data center. According to a patent filed by Google, wind turbines and wave-powered generators will provide the electricity. Ocean water will cool the servers, which throw off huge amounts of heat. And offshore real estate is essentially free."

Yeah. So, free electricity from the wind/waves. Pump the heat from the servers down into the ocean. No taxes. And the real estate is essentially free. Right. Burn one for me, hippies. There's so much wrong here that it's hard to know where to begin. But lets try, shall we?

1) Free electricity from wind/waves - This is a farce. The most expensive energy on earth is wind energy and wave energy. I know. It's shocking. But it's true. Wind turbines, solar panels, all of the tree-hugger panaceas are just bullshit smoke and mirrors. If you don't believe me, here's some photos of abandoned wind farms. Do you think that, if they were profitable, they would have been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair? No. Of course not. I have to assume that "ocean power" is the same bull-shit as wind-power. Something the Dimocrats and Libtards, and the eco-terrorists at Greenpeace dreamed up. There's no such thing as "free electricity". The cheapest electricity on earth is the energy you can buy on land from your power company. Go out into the ocean, and you're going to find out how expensive electricity truly is.

2) Cool the data floating data centers in the ocean. Yeah. Right. If you start trying to pump hot water out of a floating data center into the SF Bay, the EPA is going to have a stroke. Libtards will lose their shit. Their heads will literally explode at the idea of dumping warm water into the SF Bay and threatening the sea otters and other marine life. Not going to happen. Out at sea, maybe. But you have to consider that the ocean is made of salt water, which is the last thing you want anywhere near your data-center. I can't imagine any sane person running a data center and saying "What'd I really like to do is float this bitch across the ocean...see how that works out..."

3) Offshore real estate is essentially free. OK. Wow. So, if that were true, then you'd see homeless people living in the oceans. Because it's so cheap to live there, right? This is so painfully stupid. Sure. The surface of the ocean is free to live on. Fair enough. Now...why is it that people don't live there? Hmmmm. Because the ocean is far less hospitable than a desert. That's the truth. Because people live in deserts. But they don't live in the oceans. Let's think about what it would me to try to exist on a boat in the ocean. You don't have fresh water, electricity, or public transportation. Your people can't get from home to work easily. Everything around you is rusting and corroding before your eyes. You're in constant threat of tsunamis, sinking, and rusting. There are no grocery stores. Your people can't commute to and from home very easily. You can't buy food, electricity, gas, fishing line, fishing poles, chewing gum. Anything.

Now, let's ignore that a floating data center isn't cost effective due to real estate costs, electrical costs, food, transportation. That it can sink and rust and that people can't get home to see their families at night. Let's ignore all of that.

Communications: Now, let's talk about communications.

If you have a floating data center, you have to get data onto and off of the floating platform. You're presumably going to be running supply ships/helicopters constantly back and forth from ship to shore, carrying food, people, supplies. This will cost so much money there aren't words, but let's ignore that.

How about the data? How do we transfer data to/from the data center?

Certainly, satellites are a possibility. I've done some research on this issue. On a large platform on calm seas, it would probably be possible to operate a stabilized marine satellite up-link. It's a little bit tricky, because you have to have gimballed satellite dish uplinks with technology to track the satellites, even though they're in geosynchronous orbit. (Technically, it's constantly falling at an altitude of 22,700 miles above the earth's surface, and it's moving at a speed of 7,000 mph, but from the surface of the earth, it appears to be perfectly still.) Again, this is like falling off a log, on land. But on the ocean, it's a nightmare. The ship is rolling and pitching in high seas, and the satellite dish has to be gimballed and constantly searching/tracking for a satellite that, for all intents and purposes, is stationary. And the dish has to be encased in a dome so that it doesn't rust away, etc.

In addition to the problems with the satellite tracking, uplink/downlink corroding, you also have a latency issue which you cannot get away from. It takes about 1/2 second for an EMF signal to travel from the floating barge to a satellite. This may not seem like a lot of time, but it's enough that it no one in the United States is using it. If you can get internet service that doesn't involve satellites, then you get it. Because it's faster, and it's cheaper, and there's essentially zero latency.

So, satellite uplinks are a bad way to go. Is there another way to get information onto and off of the floating Titanic data-center?

There is, if you're close enough to the coast. If you have a line-of-sight to the coast, you can use line-of-sight radio towers to transmit data. The trick is that you have to be close enough to the coast for the top of the tower on the floating data center to see the top of the tower on land. Then, they can relay almost unlimited data back and forth between the floating data center and the land.

The trick is that the line-of-sight has to be maintained.

It is true and well documented that ham radio operators use a trick where their radio signals are reflected back down and echoed across the earth to cover very long distances. The radio signals could be bounced off of clouds, or the ionosphere to cover much greater distances than would be possible with line-of-sight EMF communications. However, I don't think that you'd want to plan on your primary communication link to the land on taking 5 bounces between the ionosphere and the earth to get data to the coast.

You'd want to go with direct line-of-sight to the coast. This is where the curvature of the earth comes into play.

So, in this case, what you'd want is a very TALL floating data center barge. And, because a data center is useless without a communication link, you'd want a lot of very tall antennas on the barge. This, coincidentally, it what we see on the floating barge. It's so tall that it couldn't go underneath either span of the Bay Bridge. It has 12 poles mounted on top of the cargo containers lined up from one end of the barge to the other. These are the antennae.

Google's patent application says that the floating barges "may operate satisfactorily, for example, approximately 3-7 miles from shore, in 50-70 meters of water."

Now, the question is "how high are the antennae on the barges?"

A standard shipping container is 8'6" tall. So, the shipping containers are roughly 34' tall, if they're stacked four on tall, as reported. Then, add to that, the height of the barge, plus the height of the antennae. From these photos, I'd guess that the barge deck is roughly 12 ft above the surface of the water. And that the antennae are roughly 14 feet tall. So, that gives a total height of the top of the antennae at something in the neighborhood of 60' tall.

So, they say they want to operate 3-7 miles from shore, but how far out could they operate?

Let's say, for argument's sake, that they have a 60' tall antennae network on the ship, how far out could they communicate with an antennae placed on the ground at the shore?

The math is fairly simple. The distance (in miles) is roughly 1.23 * square root of the height of the antennae on board the barge in feet. So, if the tops of the antennae on the ship are 60' above the ocean's surface, then they could communicate with an antennae laying on the surface of the beach from a distance of roughly 9.5 miles. (For now, we're ignoring the effects of radio waves bouncing off of clouds and the ionosphere.)

This would allow them to operate easily operate within the 3-7 mile range specified in their patent. But this also assumes that the antennae on shore is lying down on the beach. What if we put the land-based antennae on a tower, or on a hill that was also 60' off of the ground? Well now, we've doubled the distance that we can communicate with from 9.5 miles to roughly 19 miles.

The interesting thing about this is that now, we can operate our floating data center outside of the territorial waters of the country we're beaming information to. The "territorial water" boundary is 12 nautical miles off the coast (roughly 18.8 miles off-shore). This means that the floating data center can operate on the "High Seas", outside the jurisdiction of any country.

So, Google says that it's for, among other things, natural disasters, I find this hard to swallow. Like...say a tsunami hits Japan and people are running around without internet access...I mean...I dunno...maybe right? How do you even keep your cell phone charged if there's no power? How do your computers work on shore without electricity? This idea, to me, seems thin.

I also don't think it makes sense in a country like the United States, where they claim electricity and land are expensive, and their computers generate a lot of heat. The truth is this barge would be WAY more expensive to operate, than to run a similar data center on land. Otherwise, everyone would be running their computers on the oceans. It's an absurd notion.

The only thing that makes sense, as I see it, is that they're getting their data out into international waters, where the NSA has no jurisdiction. You heard it hear first.

CNET article: Is Google building a hulking floating data center in SF Bay?
Similar project in Maine
relevant patent


Floating speculation about Google's mystery barge

Posted by Rob Kiser on November 1, 2013 at 3:11 AM


Posted by: sl on November 1, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Well, if CNN reports it, then it must be true. Oh...wait....no...not that...CNN is the network that's paid for content by foreign and domestic governments.
The thing is that I don't believe Google is being honest here. I don't think it makes any sense at all to sell "Google Glasses" on a barge in the middle of the SF Bay. 1) They don't even have a permit to park it there 2) They never will get a permit to park it there. The tree-huggers that guard the SF Bay estuary have always said that the water is not the place for anything that can be built on land. Obviously, there is nothing unique about a retail shopping mall selling Google Glasses that compels it to be over water, so they never will get a permit to park it there, just wait and see. Instead, what Google is setting up is an Off-shore floating Data Center. Note that Google is seen here castigating the NSA on the same day that CNN is telling the world that Google's Floating Data Center is really a floating mall. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304391204579177104151435042

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on November 5, 2013 at 3:51 AM

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