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Google’s New Floating Data Center or Elaborate Speculation?

October 28, 2013 - Written By Jeremy Ellwood

It seems Google is making their first full retail presence known with a splash. While Apple has had its own retail stores since 2001 (the first two opened on May 19 of 2001), Google has, for all intents and purposes, offered their products and services online only. Well, they are now about to barge in on the competition with a new floating retail store. At least that’s the speculation. While it hasn’t been fully verified, there is some evidence that Google is considering a data retail center within the floating building in San Francisco Bay. Supporting the overall speculation that the building, itself, will be a full retail center for Google is the 2009 patent grant for a ‘water based data center’ and the connection of Tim Brandon, of the location leasing the building, to Google. It seems even his LinkedIn profile and his phone number is Google related.

So, why a giant barge for a retail store? According to Google’s patent and to their track record (remember Project Loon?), economy and ecology. Some of their plans involve using the ocean water for cooling and actual wave energy for power for their four story center. This allows for cheap, renewable, constant energy to support the massive structure. In addition, they are using giant shipping containers for the building itself. That’s ultimate recycling! Though, I’d be interested in seeing their plans for insulation.

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This story doesn’t stop in San Francisco, however. It seems a very similar barge with the same shipping container structure was seen off the shore of Portland, Maine. Are the two linked? Well, as said, both barges have the same building structure, the barges are both owned by the same company (By and Large LLC), and the registration numbers of the barges are sequential (BAL0010 in San Francisco and BAL0011 in Portland). By and Large LLC is also renting a hangar near the pier where the San Francisco project is taking place.

Let’s shift gears a moment and pull away from the ‘data center’ concept. According to KPIX (San Francisco’s CBS – owned by CNET), the floating center will, in fact be a retail location; specifically Google Glass. They also mentioned the possibility of the center being towed to San Francisco’s Fort Mason.

A non-disclosed contact from CNET mentioned Google’s plans to float these retail stores from city to city using the river system; and that the idea came from Larry Page or Sergey Brin directly. The contact mentioned that this is Google’s way of creating retail stores without making it look like they are trying to chase Apple.

According to CNET, an engineer stated he had been working on a project with Google for a floating data back-up center in case of ‘natural disaster’. He goes on to claim:

“They’d have all their data from the region backed up at this center. This could easily tow it with a tug out of the area, and be able to easily bring it back in and get it up and running while facilities would be down in the area. And…the master plan at the time was to build upwards of a dozen of these things. About four in the States, and then have them worldwide, over in Asia, Europe, South America. They were planning on putting in a lot of these things worldwide.”

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To support the speculation that this is indeed a Google project even further, Larry Page’s personal yacht, Senses was spotted docked alongside the project in San Francisco Bay. While this could be coincidence, it’s highly unlikely considering the way all the cards are falling into place. And would we really be all that surprised? Google has been the lead innovation company for years and they’ve never been afraid to try new things. It would be just like them to say, “We can make this happen” and proceed to do so. And since they’re always looking for more ecological means to support their company, wave energy would be a perfect system for single location infrastructure. And to be honest, the ability to float their stores to the cities of highest concentration of demand is pretty genius. That all boils down to the cost to Return on Investment. It would be interesting to see one of these barges floating up into Lake Michigan or Lake Huron, pulling up to a pier, opening the doors, and offering retail services before packing up and moving on. They’re like the gypsies of retail and data services. I know I would definitely drive over to check it out. It’s possible they’re using it as a gimmick, but it seems to me that if that were the case (and if the speculation is, indeed accurate), they would have already announced their plans to pique the curiosity of the masses. Personally, I see it more as a rather ingenious business model be it for back-up services or retail services… or perhaps both.