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Servers Ahoy — Startup To Build Floating Data Centers 219

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'm-on-a-boat dept.
1sockchuck writes "Startup International Data Security says it is moving ahead with plans to build data centers on cargo ships docked in the San Francisco Bay. IDS first announced its plans in 2008, but they were postponed by the credit crunch. The company says it has now lined up funding and an anchor tenant for a proof-of-concept 'dataship' that will hold 500 racks of servers in its cargo holds. IDS isn't alone in contemplating ship-board server farms, as Google has applied for a patent for a 'water-based data center.'"
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Servers Ahoy — Startup To Build Floating Data Centers

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  • by Arimus (198136) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:03PM (#33192164)

    Wonder if data sinks will have to be prohibited?

    • ..can't trust the floating point calculations, which have assumed dramatic new importance
    • Well, I for one am tired of reading about server room floodings (data center in Istambul [datacenterknowledge.com]) and welcome reading about sinking data centers in the near future. As an added bonus, I can even link to this posting.

      [bookmarked for future use under /. predictions come true catagory] -- done

      • by hoggoth (414195)

        > Well, I for one am tired of reading about server room floodings (data center in Istambul) and welcome reading about sinking data centers in the near future. As an added bonus, I can even link to this posting.

        Watched the video.
        The country is flooding and all this guy can think about is getting his chair adjusted 'just right'.

  • These guys better watch out for software pirates!!!
    • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:05PM (#33192210)

      Nah, they'll listen to Reason.

      • by gravis777 (123605)

        Actually, it was what I was first thinking of. IF, instead of sitting in harbor, they went out past 3 miles from shore, they could technically host anything they wanted to. The quesition would be, where would they get their bandwidth from, because courts can still cut bandwidth.

        But software pirates are just the start - if you go out beyond three miles (12 miles for communist nations, if memory serves), you could host ANYTHING, as no laws could touch you (well, you could still be held liable by which ever co

        • But software pirates are just the start - if you go out beyond three miles (12 miles for communist nations, if memory serves), you could host ANYTHING, as no laws could touch you (well, you could still be held liable by which ever country you reside in). Point is, you would have a mecca for pirates and pornographers

          What flag are you going to fly that's going to keep anyone interested (say, some country's navy)from blowing your shit to smithereens? You really think there'll be public outrage if some CP-host

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Navies only defend the state against attacks against the state. It's not like in GTA when they'll call in the Army if the FBI can't capture you. Torpedos are fucking expensive. The odds are very high that it cost more than your house, and depending on where you live, more than your entire neighbourhood put together.

            The reason you wouldn't be able to do this is a simple one of supply. Either you would have to keep getting food or you'd have to keep it unmanned.

            If you want to eat, then you have to go asho

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You always do when you program in sea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by llvllatrix (839969)
      I think the wire sharks will do more damage.
  • Well (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NetNed (955141) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:06PM (#33192232)
    Does this mean that file sharing and sites like Wikileaks could just pull up anchor and go to the next country if being pressured by local law enforcement? Interesting the possibilities that this could have. Can think either bad or good, maybe even both.
    • Re:Well (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bsDaemon (87307) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:12PM (#33192350)

      Thus increasing the ease of seizing their property under the guise of a Coast Guard inspection/quaranteen, firing on them at sea, sinking them and blaming it on pirates/terrorists, etc? Sounds like a good plan to me.

      • Re:Well (Score:4, Interesting)

        by BitZtream (692029) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:25PM (#33192600)

        Not to mention that in reality it's far easier to just upload a backup copy of the site to a new server than it is to move a cargo ship.

        Other than 'land is expensive' which is hard to believe since you can build a datacenter more or less anywhere on cheap land OUTSIDE of major cities... I just don't see any advantge at all, maybe some loopholes that haven't been caught yet but won't take long to close.

        The whole thing seems really silly.

        • by vlm (69642)

          I just don't see any advantge at all, maybe some loopholes that haven't been caught yet but won't take long to close.

          Build and fully equip the boats with Chinese political prisoner slave labor instead of highly paid American CCIEs. Then sail across the sea to the end user. You're already paying the Chinese to build all the electronics and ship them to the usa, just now you're paying them to mount the racks in the ships, mount the machines in the racks, run all the cables, etc.

          Admittedly, god only know what backdoors and keyloggers they're going to slip in, but using walmart math, it doesn't matter if its any good as lon

        • Re:Well (Score:5, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Monday August 09, 2010 @03:04PM (#33193290) Homepage

          Other than 'land is expensive' which is hard to believe since you can build a datacenter more or less anywhere on cheap land OUTSIDE of major cities...

          Sure, land and buildings are expensive - but that expense is trivial compared to the cost of building and operating a ship. You're operating in a marine environment, and that means corrosion and a constant battle against it. That means algae and seaweed growing in your heat exchangers, or worse yet barnacles and clams/mussels/oysters taking up residence inside them. That means storms not only threaten you directly like they do a building, but they also strain your mooring lines and shore service connections (which will require routine maintenance). Etc... etc...
           
          There's also tons of training, safety, insurance, and environmental regulations to contend with - and in most Western nations (I.E. those most likely to have the infrastructure you'll need to hook your ship to), the various regulatory bodies have no sympathy and no compunctions about shutting you down and/or seizing your vessel.
           
          Not to mention that anyone who thinks land is expensive has never paid for mooring. Look at a map of any harbor and compare how much waterfront there is with how much land there is - waterfront is essentially one dimensional, while land is two dimensional. Worse yet, building new mooring is expensive. There's a whole raft load of environmental (much more so than on land) regulations on top of the zoning regulations.
           
          This might work in an area with a lot of disused piers and infrastructure... But everywhere I'm familiar with in the US they're either already at capacity (and straining for more), or have repurposed this disused piers to new purposes. (Where they haven't demolished them outright either for new construction for new purposes or for habitat restoration.)

          • by lgw (121541)

            Sure, land and buildings are expensive - but that expense is trivial compared to the cost of building and operating a ship.

            Heck, here in the Bay Area it's nearly trivial regardless. About half of the commercial real estate in Silly Valley is vacant right now. If you can't get a good deal on floor space right now, facility operations is not for you! And as you point out, everything else is going to the cheaper on land as well. Seems like a publicity stunt to me.

        • Presumably one advantage would be that you could register your "ship" in Liberia, Panama or some other flag of convenience [wikipedia.org] such that you pay minimal taxes, avoid local labor & environmental laws, etc.
        • Re:Well (Score:5, Interesting)

          by IICV (652597) on Monday August 09, 2010 @03:27PM (#33193638)

          I just don't see any advantge at all, maybe some loopholes that haven't been caught yet but won't take long to close.

          You've got a heatsink the size of the entire ocean sitting under your datacenter. I thought that was the main reason why they wanted to do this - run some radiators along the inside of your hull (or even poke them outside) and you've got all the cold you could ever use. Hell, if your systems are robust enough, you could even use filtered ocean water.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by TubeSteak (669689)

            You've got a heatsink the size of the entire ocean sitting under your datacenter. I thought that was the main reason why they wanted to do this - run some radiators along the inside of your hull (or even poke them outside) and you've got all the cold you could ever use.

            In the USA (and many Western Countries) there are all kinds of environmental regulations on the discharge of heat into local waterways.

            It's actually kind of a big deal.
            Otherwise heavy industry would crank up the temperature and kill the native aquatic species.

        • I know that the 'floating casinos' on the Mississippi were created to skirt certain state laws... maybe that would apply to a data center at dock.

      • by v1 (525388)

        What (international?) laws protect independent ships on the open sea anyway? What's to stop say, our friendly DoD from parking a battleship next to a DataShip and "thank you for your cooperation" while they board the ship and hunt for their wikileaks documents?

        One would assume they would claim a registry somewhere in the world where there were sensible privacy laws, and would be "under their flag", but I don't know how much actual protection that would afford them. I don't know how international law/treat

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mlts (1038732) *

          Circulating seawater has its bad points. There are a LOT of critters in that water, and in time, barnacles and other stuff will start forming in the pipes, essentially sealing them off once they get big enough and there are enough of them. Of course, one could filter the seawater or use a heat exchanger system, but that is added engineering effort and more items that can break down.

          Marine engineering is a fight to itself. It already is tough keeping a datacenter on land operating... add the perils of th

      • by NevarMore (248971)

        Jack Ryan, "How do you get a crew of highly trained sailors to want to get off a nuclear submarine^H^H^H floating data centre?"

      • by mlts (1038732) *

        If a data center is in international waters, *any* country's navy can come by and seize it. There, might makes right essentially.

        I'm reminded of a guy on another forum who was wanting to do this and offer essentially a floating warehouse to customers for long term storage not on land. He found out the hard way about life on the high seas when a salvage crew from another nation slurped all his floating containers and sold all the contents.

      • Thus increasing the ease of seizing their property under the guise of a Coast Guard inspection/quaranteen, firing on them at sea, sinking them and blaming it on pirates/terrorists, etc? Sounds like a good plan to me.

        Well, setting aside the matter of a government coming after you no matter what (a risk on land or on a ship, and one vastly overstated), there's a whole raft load of regulatory risks that come with operating a ship that a land based server farm doesn't have.

        First off, if you plan on goin

    • by Vahokif (1292866)
      No. Ships are still subject to their country of origin's laws, even in the high seas. They're better off staying in Iceland.
    • by sjames (1099)

      Here at the High Seas data center we try to avoid words like "leak".

  • by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:06PM (#33192234) Homepage Journal

    Seriously? How is a server-farm in a ship innovative enough for a patent? Goodness.

    • Re:A Patent? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ImNotAtWork (1375933) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:21PM (#33192522)
      One word: Cooling
      • It would be easier to keep at a constant temperature, but that alone doesn't qualify it for a patent.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gstoddart (321705)

      Seriously? How is a server-farm in a ship innovative enough for a patent? Goodness.

      I was thinking the exact same thing.

      You see so many patents that are like "a patent for doing something commonplace ... with a computer". Now I'm looking at "building a data center ... on a ship" and going WTF??

      However, following the link to the Slashdot article, they're envisioning capturing the wave energy to run some of the power needs. So, that might be a somewhat novel idea that merits a patent.

      • That does, but the way the submitter worded it was one of the following:

        a) intentionally deceitful by the submitter, shame on that person in that case;
        b) wording copied from TFA whose author was intentionally deceitful, same on the author of the article;
        c) wording copied by the author from the patent application in which the submitter was being intentionally vague and broad in scope so as to have it considered to cover having servers on a ship as well as the capturing of wave energy for power, shame on the

      • I think that there could be non-trivial problems that would be patent worthy; a better way to secure cables/equipment against constant motion, resistance to flooding and or wet salty air, better power management. If it's just "hay guise I put these blades on my boate, gimmie patent" then I would agree with you, but I haven't read the patent.
    • by Korin43 (881732)
      Easy, because there's a computer involved in some way!
  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:07PM (#33192244) Journal

    Never underestimate the bandwidth of a cargo ship full of servers, hurling through the Pacific ocean...

  • So what are the laws concerning data resident on vessels under a foreign flag ?

    Seems like a nice way to get pirate-bay like content really close to the US backbone.

    • by DesScorp (410532)

      So what are the laws concerning data resident on vessels under a foreign flag ?

      Seems like a nice way to get pirate-bay like content really close to the US backbone.

      If they're doing this to host pirated content, then this is a really stupid idea, becuae it's easier for authorties to get to them. A land-side agency like the FBI needs a warrant to search a premises and seize stuff. The Coast Guard has much more leeway to board and search ships than the FBI could ever dream of having over some server farm.

      • It's even easier than that. A stray missile from submarine "accidentally" sunk the data center.

        • by oodaloop (1229816)
          Or just have the USS Greeneville accidentally surface and destroy the ship. Totally plausible.

          https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/USS_Greeneville_%28SSN-772%29
  • But it sure seems like a tsunami would take it out.
    • by khb (266593)

      Quite true.

      Even worse, if they are using wires to shore (for reasonable latency, high bandwidth) they will be hostage to just as many (and perhaps worse) failures due to network connectivity (worse than a well designed ground based facility, as few... if any... ports were designed around notions of data redundancy.

      Of course, building them far in the deep ocean has benefits (Legal and practical), but then there's that darned latency issue.

      • Even worse, if they are using wires to shore (for reasonable latency, high bandwidth) they will be hostage to just as many (and perhaps worse) failures due to network connectivity (worse than a well designed ground based facility, as few... if any... ports were designed around notions of data redundancy.

        In San Francisco Bay, they could probably get reasonable latency and high bandwidth with microwave transmitters pointed at one or more shore stations (possibly on opposites sides of the Bay, to provide redun

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ImNotAtWork (1375933)
      depends on how close to shore it is. It's nearly a non-event if the ship is not close to shore.
    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:24PM (#33192578)

      Tsunami's don't work that way. Generally, the wave out at sea (or even in the harbor) is quite small, it is only when it pushes up against a shelf of land that it rises 30 or more feet above the surface of the sea. Besides, cargo ships are big, huge in fact. Even a 100 ft rouge wave (which would be completely unheard of in a harbor) would have trouble significantly damaging one of them. When was the last time that you heard about a cargo ship sinking while docked at harbor?.

      • by rwade (131726)

        During past hurricanes in the gulf, there were instances where entire ships ended up on land. This would likely damage one of these server ships and anything in it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Alrescha (50745)

        "Even a 100 ft rouge wave (which would be completely unheard of in a harbor) would have trouble significantly damaging one of them."

        It's the ones with eye shadow that you have to worry about.

        A.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      But it sure seems like a tsunami would take it out.

      In San Francisco Bay? While perhaps theoretically possible, I don't think a tsunami that would be likely to take out such a floating data center has occurred in recorded history, and given the geography of the region it would pretty hard (if it was in the ocean off the SF coast, it would be in more danger.)

  • Heat sink (Score:3, Insightful)

    by snookerhog (1835110) on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:17PM (#33192434)
    I assume one of the primary reasons for doing so is to take advantage of liquid cooling using the Bay.

    how long do you think it will be before the thermal pollution [wikipedia.org] watchdogs start cracking down?

    • You say that like it's a bad thing. If there are real ecological concerns with dumping that much heat into the bay, then have at them. It doesn't sound like it would be a problem...until everyone else start doing it that is.

  • will make data centers as we know them obsolete. i'm already carrying a terabyte around in my pocket.
  • by thasmudyan (460603) <udo DOT schroeter AT gmail DOT com> on Monday August 09, 2010 @02:21PM (#33192510) Homepage

    They still need massive data and power lines coming from the grid, and because servers need to be connected to the internet without even the slightest interruption, a floating server rack cannot be mobile. In fact, special steps would have to be undertaken to make sure it stays in one place during storms and other maritime crises. Wouldn't it make more sense to just buy a piece of land near the sea and simply pump the ocean water around for cooling? Throw in a few photovoltaic cells and a wind turbine and you'd get a far cheaper, more reliable land-based data center.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Floating data centers are immune to flooding due to rising sea level. (Of course, a good tsunami could wipe 'em out just fine... But if you knew one was coming and had time to deal with it you could perhaps move them out to deep waters for the duration? It's not like you're going to be able to reconnect them at the port right away, but you might be able to move them to a port which has not been wiped out, and reattach them there.)

    • "They still need massive data and power lines coming from the grid, and because servers need to be connected to the internet without even the slightest interruption, a floating server rack cannot be mobile."

      One would assume they'd be able to generate the power themselves. Data lines are still an issue, though an optical or microwave link to shore might be feasible.

      It'd probably make more sense as a big render farm or compute farm, where the machines can chew on the task for a day and then the result is poop

    • by MikeyO (99577)

      Wouldn't it make more sense to just buy a piece of land near the sea and simply pump the ocean water around for cooling?

      Not when the sea you want to be near is the San Francisco Bay, where real estate prices are insane.

    • I bet you could get some super cheap cooling just by puttering up into the arctic ocean and opening a few windows. Solves one data center issue at the cost of others.

      I wonder though if anyone has thought of building land based data centers in the far northern climates to take advantage of the -40 degree arctic cold fronts.

      I used to joke with a friend who wanted to do a tour in one of the antarctic research stations that he could leave a overclocked computer sitting outside his bedroom window, and the
      • by mikeee (137160)

        I've read of people trying to sell this in Iceland - cold, and you have cheap geothermal power!

        They were having trouble finding users who weren't turned off by the expensive bandwidth, last I'd heard...

      • I wonder though if anyone has thought of building land based data centers in the far northern climates to take advantage of the -40 degree arctic cold fronts.

        Yes [annarbor.com] they have.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Floating data centers are immune to property tax increases because they'll just sail away, and mostly immune to NIMBY foolishness assuming you use a pre-existing port.

  • I assume they are using water-cooled CPUs?
  • by eison (56778)

    Ships aren't cheap, and marine environments are rather hostile (salt, water), and data centers can already be reasonably mobile by putting it in a shipping container and moving that shipping container somewhere... so what need is this filling?

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Ships aren't cheap, and marine environments are rather hostile (salt, water), and data centers can already be reasonably mobile by putting it in a shipping container and moving that shipping container somewhere... so what need is this filling?

      From the first link ...

      Using cargo ships allows for flexibility and the ability to expand based on the availability of ships and port space, rather than real estate. IDS plans to develop the below-deck areas as data center space and use the water temperature to support

    • Me thinks it has something to do with them floating license thingies.

    • ... so what need is this filling?

      I suspect that, at least as far as San Francisco goes, it may be cheaper to rent a spot to anchor a ship than it is to rent anything on dry land...

      Also, given the area, it's likely easier to ride out an earthquake on a reasonably large ship than to try and do it on shore...

    • by cbope (130292)

      The need for some company to file another stupid patent?

      Can't see the benefit either. Maybe they will apply some marketing spin to it and it will sound all cool to the kids...

    • Good point - not to mention that ships maintenance is very, very expensive.
    • by demonbug (309515)

      Ships aren't cheap, and marine environments are rather hostile (salt, water), and data centers can already be reasonably mobile by putting it in a shipping container and moving that shipping container somewhere... so what need is this filling?

      At a guess, I'd say taxes. Any extra expense from going through the pain of putting a data center on a ship would likely be offset (and more than offset) by the tax results. In most places, property taxes can be very significant. If you are putting up a datacenter in a building on land, every dollar you spend (aside from servers) is going to cost you in the long run because you are increasing the taxable value. Datacenters have very extensive and expensive power and cooling infrastructure, and all of that e

  • of a cargo ship full of servers?
  • From a purely technical standpoint, I'm still not seeing the benefits of a ship-borne data center. For such a system to be useful, you still have to connect it to the shore somehow, and you still need a significant power source, both of which rather necessitate tying your data center up to a dock. As far as cooling with seawater, that's a nifty idea, but one that could just as easily be done by running some pipes from the shoreline.

    So that suggests that the motivation for this isn't technical at all, but le

    • by vlm (69642)

      So that suggests that the motivation for this isn't technical at all, but legal. As in "we need a way to get all our stuff into international waters relatively quickly". Which means these are not financial backers or "anchor tenants" I'd want to have anything to do with.

      Don't forget avoidance of property tax. Once you construct a building, your local govt pretty much owns you, unless you've got enough money to own the local govt. With a boat, if the local govt goes on a tax and spend binge (like California?) simply lift the anchor and sail away to a more tax friendly locale, or country.

      • simply lift the anchor and sail away to a more tax friendly locale, or country.

        And lose all your customers as your latency spikes through the roof and your throughput sinks while you're out to sea?

  • Han Solo. I'm captain of the Millennium Falcon. Chewie here tells me you're lookin' for 26 racks plus eight 40 amp drops?
    Obi-Wan: Yes indeed, if it's a cool ship.
    Han Solo: Cool ship? You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon?
    Obi-Wan: Should I have?
    Han Solo: It's the ship that made the Kessel Run at less than twelve degrees. I've out-chilled Liebert refrigerators. Not the local bulk chillers mind you, I'm talking about the big water-fed units now. She's cool enough for you old man. What's the cargo?
    Ob
  • Ship, noun: "A hole in the water into which one throws money."
  • Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DaMattster (977781) on Monday August 09, 2010 @03:52PM (#33194078)
    This might be flamebait my personal opinion is that this idea is abject stupidity. I don't see any benefits as the ship still must be moored for ground power. I could see this being really good economically if you could anchor the ship in a place where you could harness waves for power. Perhaps, the only benefit is mobility - you could move the data center to where it is needed. However, with the urban blight resulting from the latest economic meltdown, why not grab up some of the abandoned buildings, rehabilitate them, and turn them into working datacenters thereby creating jobs for other industries and making America look better.
    • by NevarMore (248971)

      thereby creating jobs for other industries and making America look better.

      Because no one spends money to "create jobs". They spend money to create a useful product or service. Hiring people to perform the necessary work is not a primary function of the business. Nor does making the businesses home country look better factor in unless that business profits from said appearances.

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