Google

Instant City: Just Add Water

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Google, reports The New York Times, has

filed for a patent that describes a "water-based data center." The idea is that Google would create mobile data center platforms out at sea by stacking containers filled with servers, storage systems and networking gear on barges or other platforms.

This would let Google push computing centers closer to people in some regions where it's not feasible, cost-effective or as efficient to build a data center on land. In short, Google brings the data closer to you, and then the data arrives at a quicker clip.

Perhaps even more intriguing to some, Google has theorized about powering these ocean data centers with energy gained just from water splashing against the side of the barges.

Maybe it'll happen; maybe it won't. Either way, I enjoyed the reaction it provoked from Geoff Manaugh, waxing futuristic:

I have to assume, then, that we're moving ever closer to true deep-water city-states—only they won't be libertarian ocean-going homesteads, after all, they'll be distributed networks of supercomputing villages afloat on, and drawing power from, the tides.

Two weeks ago, meanwhile, the NYTimes also looked at the privatization of civic infrastructure—but perhaps Google's literally offshore experiment in information technology implies a coming world of privatized services at sea.

A fleet of tankers shows up in a nearby port one day… and suddenly your city has telephone services. It's Archigram's instant city all over again, but on the level of specific—and highly billable—urban amenities.

The services show up. The network takes over.

Your city will never be the same.

In other news-from-the-future, a company based in Dubai—of course it would be based in Dubai—has designed an arcology that Mysterytopia describes as "a giant glass pyramid that could house up to one million people." It's called the Ziggurat, and in the unlikely event (*) that anyone builds one, it

will be self sufficient and carbon neutral with power being supplied by wind turbines.

No cars will be allowed inside the 2.3 square kilometre building, with residents being whisked around by a monorail network which operates both horizontally and vertically.

Security in the city will be provided by biometrics with residents relying on facial recognition to enter their homes.

* How many of those bizarre Dubai buildings are ever actually built? Seems like I see lots of stories about peculiar plans and far fewer about equally peculiar completed construction projects. Future scholars might categorize early-21st-century UAE-based architectural blueprints as a regional subgenre of science fiction.

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  1. residents being whisked around by a monorail network which operates both horizontally and vertically

    But does it go sideways and slantways and longways and backways and frontways and squareways and any other ways?

  2. Reminds me of the elevator in Wonka’s chocolate factory.

  3. Damnit, beaten to the punch by pilight — and with better execution too.

  4. But does it go sideways and slantways and longways and backways and frontways and squareways and any other ways?

    It’s Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator!

  5. Wow, double beaten. I suck.

  6. For some reason, I’m reminded of L. Bob Rife’s “Raft”.

  7. Has anyone mentioned how the elevator is like the Willy Wonka elevator?

  8. and drawing power from, the tides.

    In order to draw power from the tides, you have to be anchored to land. If the plan is to draw power from “just from water splashing against the side”, that would be a form of wind power. And a damned inefficient one at that. Just sticking a windmill on the mast would be, oh I dunno…
    *scribbles on back of envelope
    Roughly a kajillion times better. Give or take a bezzillion.

  9. I saw this in the Simpson’s movie, except that it was round, not a pyramid. Oh, and no monorail. Just a sandbox.

  10. I questioned, for a moment, the preponderance of Wonka fans, until I realized how great that film would be when combined with acid.

    Objection withdrawn.

  11. That would be great until either a) the whole data center rusts to a nub or b) pirates* come in and steal all of your credit card data.

    * The cool, seafaring type (parrots, eye patches, peg legs, the whole nine yards).

  12. Warren, waves represent kinnetic energy transmitted by water molecules (which may or may not be kinetic energy originally transmitted by air molecules). While water molecules may be lighter that air molecules (H2O vs O2, CO2, etc) they are far more densely packed together.

    So a wave generation system may be as practical as a wind generator in terms of electrical generation. And because the waves hit the platform at sea level instead of 50 to 100 feet above, there will be less torque and therefore less likelyhood of tipping the damn thing over or snapping off the towers that hold the wind generators.

  13. I am wondering if Jesse reads the fortean times when he gets bored too. I just saw this linked there right before refreshing hit and run.

  14. You bastard, now I can’t stop thinking about it 😉

    So we reverse the process of the old river-boat paddle-wheel. The paddle-wheel is set so that the lower part of the wheel is driven by waves. The wheel is mechanically connected to a generator — the waves tumble in, electricity flows out.

  15. Sounds pie-in-the-sky to me. Water and delicate electronics don’t mix really well. Especially when it’s salt water. I’ve worked on the rigs in the Gulf and it takes about 10 seconds for something to start rusting out there.

  16. And then there’s Fluid Karma, drawing power from the tides, and causing the Earth to slow down its rotation…

  17. J: I think I might have gotten the Ziggarut item from the Fortean Times. (I’ve been holding onto it awhile, so I don’t remember where I found it originally.) I spotted the Google thing on BLDGBLOG — did FT link to it too?

  18. Hmm… with arcologies being planned and floating data hubs being built, when can I order my Ono Sendai deck? I can wait for the razor nails though.

  19. I’ve worked on the rigs in the Gulf and it takes about 10 seconds for something to start rusting out there.

    Google plans on patenting an entropy-reversal device in the near future. Perhaps as a feature on the gPhone.

  20. kinnath
    As a former sailor, I can report that in every day I was at sea, the wave activity was a function of how hard the wind was blowing.

  21. Warren, yes I actually know that waves are produced by the wind.

    The question is whether you can build a practical hydroelectric generator that captures the kinnetic energy from the waves.

    I’m guessing you can.

  22. If you worked at it you could probably generate electricty from the rocking of the ship. You only need something that rolls back and forth with the rocking ship. Then you translate the back-and-forth motion into a circular motion and voila you have electicity.

  23. The question is whether you can build a practical hydroelectric generator that captures the kinnetic energy from the waves.

    I’m guessing you can.

    Oh I’m sure you can. I’m just saying, wave generator vs windmill is a no brainer. You’re gonna get so many orders of magnitude more power out of the wind mill (and at a fraction of the cost too no doubt), that you could never justify going after the wave energy.

    In gale force winds, I could see it might not be prudent to try to capture the energy. But deliberately taking on water in high seas sounds even dumber.

  24. You’re gonna get so many orders of magnitude more power out of the wind mill (and at a fraction of the cost too no doubt), that you could never justify going after the wave energy.

    I’m not convinced that extracting kinnetic energy from high-speed, low-density fluids (i.e., the air) is any easier, more efficient, or cheaper than extracting kinnetic energy from low-speed, high-density fluids (i.e., waves).

  25. A monorail! Yes!
    What’d I say?
    Monorail!
    There’s nothing on earth
    Like a genuine,
    Bona fide,
    Electrified,
    Six-car
    Monorail!

  26. If you worked at it you could probably generate electricty from the rocking of the ship. You only need something that rolls back and forth with the rocking ship. Then you translate the back-and-forth motion into a circular motion and voila you have electicity.

    You voila’d too early. You need to input that circular motion into a generator. But you are correct. It would be straight forward to use the rocking motion of the ship to generate electricity. Unfortunately a large ship doesn’t rock very much. However, your proposal has the advantage of stabilizing the ship. That is, by extracting energy out of a rocking vessel, you will reduce the amount of rocking.

  27. “I call the big one ‘Bitey’.”

  28. That is, by extracting energy out of a rocking vessel, you will reduce the amount of rocking.

    That’s what my marketeering “friends” call the sizzle of the steak. So we build and sell vessel stablization systems that just happen to produce electricity on the side. With your connections, we get deep into the Navy and make a killing.

  29. It’s not Batman!

  30. “a giant glass pyramid that could house up to one million people.” It’s called the Ziggurat, and in the unlikely event (*) that anyone builds one, it

    Anyone ever read “The Night Land”?

    They should have called it the Last Rebute.

  31. But does it go sideways and slantways and longways and backways and frontways and squareways and any other ways?

    I call this good for a first comment thread win.

  32. “Perhaps even more intriguing to some, Google has theorized about powering these ocean data centers with energy gained just from water splashing against the side of the barges.”

    I find that dubious at best. Data centers of any significant size require large amounts of cooling and redundant systems (I worked on a data center renovation last year in less than 10,000 ft^2 space, that required over 300 tons worth of dual cooling source CRAC units). I don’t think there would be enough energy in the waves lapping against the side of the barge to power all the systems even if you could capture all of it. The unreliability of consistant wave power would rule it out unless you had conventional backup power sources.

  33. anyone ever read any of the Night Land stories (original or, like I did, modern ones in that setting? There’s a ‘ziggurat’ like that, the Last Redoubt or something, that far distant humanity takes refuge in. pretty grim and fascinating stories.

  34. sounds like Dubai is trying to lure some movie producers to come do a remake of Logan’s Run

  35. It seems we’re probably a long way off from this becoming a reality, but it is an interesting concept, and one that really does go with the recent “green” trend when it comes to technology. We’re already seeing “green”er options for businesses of all sizes that want to stay efficient but be a little more environmentally responsible (cleaner-running laptops and desktops, servers that use less energy, etc.). It’s probably too early in the game to totally debunk this particular idea (even if it seems illogical with existing technology), but in theory it’s an interesting idea. It’s nice to see a company continuing to think of new possibilities and solutions, regardless of whether they’re feasible at the moment! I guess if anything that’s how great ideas are born. Of course, often the ideas that emerge aren’t at all what was originally planned, so we should probably wait to judge until we see this go beyond the bud of an idea.

  36. Google’s ideas sounds like the “Data Haven” from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

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