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What's He Building In There?
October 29, 2013 9:11 AM   Subscribe

San Francisco's Bay Barge Mystery "Something big and mysterious is rising from a floating barge at the end of Treasure Island, a former Navy base in the middle of San Francisco Bay." And now one has showed up in a Maine harbor. Update from C|Net News.
posted by banshee (117 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
You guys ever get the feeling you're living in the prolog to a depressing science fiction film?
posted by The Whelk at 9:13 AM on October 29, 2013 [50 favorites]


Oh so THAT'S where I left my barges. Sorry guys, nothing to see here, move along. PS do any of you have a tugboat?
posted by miyabo at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the comments on the first C|Net article:
my_name_is_j 22 hours ago
"By and Large LLC"

Sound familiar?

It's the fictitious conglomerate in the movie "Wall-E" by Pixar
The Whelk: apparently we're living in the prolog to an uplifting science fiction film.
posted by kdar at 9:16 AM on October 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


Mind you, we have to wreck this planet first, then live in space for centuries, getting lazier and fatter, until our successors come back to clean up the mess we made.

If this is the case, Google is really playing the long game.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, they think setting up datacenters in international waters will remove them from the intrusive reach of National Government. Our national government. The one with the big damn navy. Out where there's no laws about unrestricted sigint on US citizens. The NAVSEA R&D wonks are giggling themselves stupid over this, they've been working on capture of civilian coms, including data traffic straight off the racked hardware, at a distance. How much lead they got in the walls of that big ol' barge? TEMPEST 2 is a thing.

Their cunning plan... not thought all the way through?

(On the other hand, if this is a tidal or deep-water thermal power generation project, rock on dudes! If it's that cockamamie "Floating Hotel" scheme to bring in Chinese engineers to undermine US wages, fuck you, dudes!)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:30 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The registration number on the Portland barge is “BAL 0011.” The registration number of the barge in San Francisco Bay is “BAL 0010."


Could be worse. Could be Baal
posted by chavenet at 9:30 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Could be Baal

Prince Charles is a duke of Hell?
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's a Google Glass store.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:37 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Their cunning plan... not thought all the way through?

My first thought was, if you have a datacenter halfway between tokyo and chicago, you'd have some sort of market trading edge. Similarly for New York and London. Unfortunately, these places are underwater, so you'd need an evil supergenius to pull that sort of endevor off.
posted by pwnguin at 9:40 AM on October 29, 2013


You guys ever get the feeling you're living in the prolog to a depressing science fiction film?

"Yearly reminder: unless you're over 60, you weren't promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go."

-- Kyle Marquis (@Moochava) in ‏a tweet
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:41 AM on October 29, 2013 [67 favorites]


I get it: put everyone so self-absorbed they think they need Google Glasses on a barge then tow it out to sea.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:42 AM on October 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


Resistance is futile.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:45 AM on October 29, 2013


Maybe it's an al Qaeda plot to foil Homeland Security by working... very... slowly...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:46 AM on October 29, 2013


Meanwhile, over at Bing...
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:46 AM on October 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


Resistance is futile.

Resistance is fusile.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:51 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The registration number on the Portland barge is “BAL 0011.” The registration number of the barge in San Francisco Bay is “BAL 0010."

“Now the question is, if there’s one in San Francisco Bay and another in Maine, are there more out there?” he asked.


Given the registration numbers, I'd at least expect there to be a BAL 0001 out there somewhere.
posted by maryr at 9:51 AM on October 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


Or kink.com has already outgrown the Armory building?
posted by localroger at 9:52 AM on October 29, 2013 [21 favorites]


Or maybe its just that building and running a data center from a barge will, in the long term, be cheaper than building one on land and running it there? Or is that just not big evil brother enough for Google?
posted by Inkoate at 9:52 AM on October 29, 2013


Hey man the sysadmin just wants to live the life of the sea you know
posted by ook at 9:54 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


With global climate change threatening to inundate coastal cities, I can think of worse things to have available than floating data centers.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:55 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd at least expect there to be a BAL 0001 out there somewhere.

I think I found it.
posted by gubo at 9:59 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now what's that sound from under the door? He's pounding nails into a hardwood floor... and I swear to god I heard someone moaning low... and I keep seeing the blue light of a T.V. show... (I just now noticed the title of the post)

And he used to have a consulting business in Indonesia...
... He has no friends but he gets a lot of mail, I'll bet he spent a little time in jail...
posted by filthy light thief at 10:01 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


In all seriousness, it makes sense as a data center - already you've got people stuffing shipping containers with computers and switches and dropping them into a colo space, and you've got people putting data centers in places with good cooling. Given the price of real estate in the bay area and some other cities that have infrastructure in their port areas but not a lot of industrial space left in some of the port areas, I can easily see merging the two into a floating data center space.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:03 AM on October 29, 2013


they think setting up datacenters in international waters will remove them from the intrusive reach of National Government

...or ease the process of setting up their own Government.

"I pledge allegiance ... to the homepage ..."
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:09 AM on October 29, 2013


Homepage? What's that, like a "portal site," grampa? That's sooo 2000. It's "I pledge to use Google search and no other search, setting my launch page to Google now and forever more ..."

I forgot the rest, let me Google it, brb.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:15 AM on October 29, 2013


I love the hush hush, but I hate that I'm probably getting pulled into yet another slick publicity stunt.
posted by glaucon at 10:16 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Best comment on one of the stories by the father of an "insider":

My kid works at google and he can't say what it is, even to me. But here's background. About four weeks ago he and nine people from his team went to Reno to run something called the Tough Mudder. It's way over a mile up, and you run and crawl through mud for ten kilometers. His team had to crawl under electric wires and barbed wire. They'd trained for this at Google, all those sports fields had a purpose. The ones who finished the Tough Mudder were chosen for this project. He's been packing for days. He said he can't tell me but, "did you see Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Watch the skies, Dad." I'll miss him!
posted by sammyo at 10:16 AM on October 29, 2013 [33 favorites]


They are launching autonomous subs to map the ocean floor.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:20 AM on October 29, 2013


I really hope this is just regular, everyday villainy and not cartoonish super-villainy
posted by The Whelk at 10:24 AM on October 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


If the fucking libertarians all go live on these things, I will buy google-branded everything from now until I die.
posted by maxwelton at 10:26 AM on October 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


My first thought was, if you have a datacenter halfway between tokyo and chicago, you'd have some sort of market trading edge. Similarly for New York and London. Unfortunately, these places are underwater, so you'd need an evil supergenius to pull that sort of endevor off.

I'm thinking this is right on the money. One in SF and one in Portland, ME? Float these in the middle of the ocean while running your own new submarine fibers between major financial markets? The lead time for competitors to get a similar plan off the ground would be tremendous, and in the meantime, you can charge a hefty premium for server space on those barges.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe they're building a venue for the Tyson-Secretariat fight? (well, the zombie Secretariat at this point).
posted by strange chain at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


They are launching autonomous subs to map the ocean floor.

You joke, but I have a friend who has that job.
posted by maryr at 10:34 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd give even odds for giant squid monsters to wreck Portland and SF in the next few weeks.
posted by bonehead at 10:36 AM on October 29, 2013


The experiment is predictive search results has allowed Google to develop a prediction method for future events. One of these, monstrous aquatic attacks, they're building countermeasures to. They're small though, to fit in those hangars, maybe they'll call them Jaeger-kin.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2013


Recently two rare, sea serpent-like Oarfish washed up on Southern California beaches. Coincidence? Or, as The Daily Beast put it, Are Beached Oarfish Trying to Tell Us Something? Go ahead, Google it...if you dare!
posted by mosk at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2013


Homepage? That's sooo 2000.
But it's a substitute for "flag" which is an even more archaic concept.

But seriously, if Google is putting datacenters in International Waters, it's just to catch up with the competition in international tax sheltering.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Has anyone thought of building data centers in the middle of cities that get really cold, and using the waste heat to heat buildings like schools, or selling the heat to office blocks?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:50 AM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Possibly connected to Google's high altitude balloon internet thingy, Project Loon?
posted by Wretch729 at 10:51 AM on October 29, 2013


I guess they have
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:52 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Float these in the middle of the ocean while running your own new submarine fibers between major financial markets?

They look rather top-heavy and barge-like for vessels that are intended for semi-permanent residence in the middle of the ocean.

Also, I don't get why having a datacenter in the middle of the ocean offers a strategic advantage. Aren't all the computers you'd be submitting trades to in NYC and London anyway? Is there even an advantage to getting information slightly earlier than everyone else when your data and anything you do with it has a ~20 microsecond roundtrip to the ocean floor?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:57 AM on October 29, 2013


Has anyone thought of building data centers in the middle of cities that get really cold, and using the waste heat to heat buildings like schools, or selling the heat to office blocks?

yep.
posted by ook at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Portland has a pretty significant shipbuilding industry, and they have some excess capacity these days due to a major defense program that just ended. It makes sense as a place where you'd assemble a giant barge with a lot of crazy heat exchangers and other cooling equipment on it, although not so much as a place where you'd actually want to moor one and operate it. It's not where the big undersea data cables come ashore, and I'd bet that the overall bandwidth going to Portland as a whole is limited and has SPOFs of the kind you'd want to avoid if you were siting a major datacenter.

So that's a little odd, because the news stories seem to indicate that the barge was being towed in to Portland, looking as though it's complete, rather than out, which would make more sense. But perhaps it's going there for some sort of testing or shakedown.

If they were doing the heavy naval construction in Portland, then bringing the barges to SF to be configured and integrated into a working datacenter, and then finally taking them to somewhere in the Pacific (where operating a land-based DC might be even more expensive than in SF), that would make perfect sense. As it is, there's more than a few pieces missing to the story.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2013


Given the registration numbers, I'd at least expect there to be a BAL 0001 out there somewhere.

For that matter, I'd expect there to be a BAL 0000.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Or it's like Seal Team 6.
posted by Carillon at 11:15 AM on October 29, 2013


This would make sense. It makes it possible to build datacenters at a single location and then tow them to where they are needed. It's well known that Google was experimenting with the shipping container datacenter way way back, before everyone, but didn't pursue it at the time. Perhaps the problem was a thermal one that can be fixed with ocean water cooling? I would imagine you'd have to keep these tethered to shore though as they'd still need a lot of power and internet bandwidth.
posted by w0mbat at 11:17 AM on October 29, 2013


Is there even an advantage to getting information slightly earlier than everyone else

Check out the latency requirements of HFT (High Frequency Trading), it's totally insane. They will have contractual requirements for lengths of fiber inside a building, and I thought I saw that a group of HFT firms did lay private ocean cables.

Those don't look like ocean going barges, certainly not to be kept long term offshore. The idea that seems reasonable is a floating backup, a server site dies for some natural cause, have a full sized ready to go online floating replacement 'site' withing a few days delivery.
posted by sammyo at 11:18 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I don't get why having a datacenter in the middle of the ocean offers a strategic advantage.

Huh, now that I think about this, I think you're right: it doesn't.

Assume you're playing arbitrage between NYC and London. An event happens at time 0 in NYC that will be worth acting on in London; it takes X ms for data to go from NYC to London; and your decision-making algorithm takes Y ms to execute. You still end up executing your trade in London at time (X + Y) whether your algorithm is running in NYC, London, or somewhere in between.
posted by ook at 11:19 AM on October 29, 2013


There is an advantage to the middle of the ocean, however slight, but the hard limit is the speed of light.

The time for light to go from NYC to London is ~18 milliseconds.

Say your main server is in NYC. In order for you to take opportunity of an opportunity in price difference between NYC and London, the system in London first has to transmit to the system in NYC, the system in NYC then has to transmit a decision back to London. This takes a full round trip which takes 36 milliseconds.

If, instead, your system is smack dab in the middle of the ocean, the time to go from NYC to system is 9 ms, London to system is also 9 ms. Assume NYC and London are both transmitting to your system in the middle of the ocean. That system can send orders back to both NYC and London in another 9ms for a total of 18 milliseconds.

That there exists arbitrage opportunities to be taken advantage of in those scant milliseconds is a different matter.
posted by fragmede at 11:20 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


You cant leave a barge out in the middle of the ocean, it'll flip over and sink in the first big storm. They're not ships.

Autonomous subs mapping the ocean floor would be fucking awesome though. I'm going with that. Sadly its probably just a backup center designed to survive earthquakes and fires and tsunamis and CA in general.
posted by fshgrl at 11:23 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So how is this better than a data center in space?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:24 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Update link in the post has some good debunking of the store theory (it wouldn't be safe or desirable to make a store out of shipping containers) and a good explanation of why you might put a datacenter on a barge (to make a giant backup of an existing datacenter and keep it somewhere else until a major disaster happens, then tug it back and use it to get things up and running again quickly, kind of like what everyone already does on a small scale with off-site backups).
posted by burnmp3s at 11:25 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Desirable or not, it wouldn't be the first store in San Francisco made out of shipping containers.
posted by fragmede at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2013


Mei's lost sandal: They are launching autonomous subs to map the ocean floor.

maryr: You joke, but I have a friend who has that job.

How is old Autonomous these days?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Say your main server is in NYC. In order for you to take opportunity of an opportunity in price difference between NYC and London, the system in London first has to transmit to the system in NYC, the system in NYC then has to transmit a decision back to London. This takes a full round trip which takes 36 milliseconds.

If, instead, your system is smack dab in the middle of the ocean, the time to go from NYC to system is 9 ms, London to system is also 9 ms. Assume NYC and London are both transmitting to your system in the middle of the ocean. That system can send orders back to both NYC and London in another 9ms for a total of 18 milliseconds.
You are misunderstanding the problem. If you want to act in London on information from London, you locate as close as humanly possible to the London exchange. If you want to act in NYC on information from London, you have latency from London>datacenter and datacenter>NYC. If you locate in London, it would be 0 ms for the first and 18 for the second. If you locate in NYC, it would be 18 ms and 0 for the second. If you locate in the middle of the ocean, you would have 9ms for both. It would not provide a competive advantage. Furthermore, as pointed out several times, barges are not meant for the open ocean.

The other hypothesis, floating retail stores, also doesn't really make rational economic sense.
posted by Lame_username at 11:38 AM on October 29, 2013


to make a giant backup of an existing datacenter and keep it somewhere else until a major disaster happens, then tug it back and use it to get things up and running again quickly

I hadn't thought about the DR angle. That makes sense, and would explain why you'd want to keep one on the Atlantic and one on the Pacific coasts. Putting the Atlantic one in Portland shaves a few hundred miles off the trip if you need to go to Europe vs mid-Atlantic ports, and getting out of Portland is relatively easy compared to Boston or NY Harbor.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:40 AM on October 29, 2013


It will involve: rail guns, the Zaggat guide and quantum computers.
posted by humanfont at 11:40 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


That system can send orders back to both NYC and London in another 9ms for a total of 18 milliseconds.

Ahhh. Okay, I understand it now. Assuming that information reaches you in the middle of the ocean simultaneously from New York and London, you have the advantage of placing orders at both locations shortly after that information reaches both shores and before each shore can place orders with each other.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2013


the news stories seem to indicate that the barge was being towed in to Portland, looking as though it's complete, rather than out, which would make more sense. But perhaps it's going there for some sort of testing or shakedown.

Dig around in the Press Herald site and you'll see that the barge was (probably, we think) brought in empty. A local company called Cianbro (pronounced Chin-Bro) has been doing work on the inside, all sworn to secrecy of course.

Here is today's local story about the barge, complete with theory that the registration numbers on the barges are actually binary for the words One, Two, Three, and Four. Which means that only one is 'missing'.

As to "why Portland?" -- the local theory is that really there are only two shipbuilding centers on the East Coast where you could build the thing: here and in Virginia. East coast shipbuilding really centers on those two sites. Nobody thinks it will stay here, but it would be very cool if it did. (Assuming they actually hire staff, of course.)
posted by anastasiav at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


In order for you to take opportunity of an opportunity in price difference between NYC and London, the system in London first has to transmit to the system in NYC, the system in NYC then has to transmit a decision back to London.

Ah, sammyo's right, I forgot that in order to know whether to make an arbitrage trade you need to have price information from both locations.

OK, so assume again at t=0 a price differential between NYC and London occurs, it takes X ms for information to travel between the cities and Y ms for your algorithm to run.

If your datacenter is in one of those cities, your algorithm learns about the price difference at t=X, and can execute a buy in your side at t=X+Y and a sell on the other side at T=2X+Y. (or vice versa, same duration).

If your datacenter is in the middle, you learn about the price difference at time X/2, and can execute your trades simultaneously in both cities at time (X + Y).

(Not that I believe this is what these barges are for, but it's an interesting thought experiment...)
posted by ook at 11:45 AM on October 29, 2013


There are four. All four are listed with the US Coast Guard and can be looked up here:
posted by Glomar response at 11:46 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Guys, no. They're actually building Google Island.
posted by Joh at 11:47 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole "disaster prep datacenter backup" theory does not do much to convince me that this isn't a dystopian sci-fi movie lead-in. By and Large building a couple of arks? Really? If Google starts building an ark, are we to assume they've been having some close personal conversations with the divine lately and see some writing on the wall that the rest of us haven't?

It's too pat, but a bit unnerving nonetheless.
posted by Sequence at 11:48 AM on October 29, 2013


They are launching autonomous subs to map the ocean floor.

You joke, but I have a friend who has that job.

I wasn't joking.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Somebody enlighten me here. Could someone explain the depressing, dystopian part of this story?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:53 AM on October 29, 2013


By and Large building a couple of arks? Really? If Google starts building an ark, are we to assume they've been having some close personal conversations with the divine lately and see some writing on the wall that the rest of us haven't?


Wrong ark. They're planning for a world without humanities majors. Be wary of emails about free vacations from Google.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:53 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nice find, Glomar response. For the curious, use that search form for Vessel Name -- not vessel number or hull number -- 'BAL0' to get the list of all four. 0001 and 0100 are listed as "Freight Barge", the other two as "Passenger Barge", and their build years range from 2010 to 2012 (in the correct binary order).

Whatever this dastardly dystopian plan is, they've been at it for a few years already.
posted by ook at 11:56 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Huh. I was assuming the more prosaic Google Glass store rumor was right, even if I didn't quite see why they'd need such a big one, but Portland, Maine would be a very odd place for such a thing. Though on reading the article it supposedly would be going from city to city, so maybe just working its way down the coast.

Still seems a trifle odd concept and why so huge? Unless it's got some kind of walkthrough environment to demonstrate with -- maybe a combo store/3-d playground?
posted by tavella at 11:57 AM on October 29, 2013


Unless it's got some kind of walkthrough environment to demonstrate with -- maybe a combo store/3-d playground?

It's not a store. It makes no sense. Plus, at least for 'ours' Cianbro is NOT the company you'd hire to fit up a store. They work on heavy construction, fabrication, fixed marine structures, and "transmission" (they do a lot of work with Central Maine Power, and also a lot of wind power work). The choice of Cianbro as contractor SCREAMS data center to me.
posted by anastasiav at 12:01 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, sammyo's right

er um oops I meant fragmede
posted by ook at 12:06 PM on October 29, 2013


Could someone explain the depressing, dystopian part of this story?

Have you never seen Waterworld?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:11 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Google Armada is now in beta. You could try to hide but it would be like trying to hide from neutrinos.
posted by planetesimal at 12:15 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please wait while Google sinks your data...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 12:23 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hm. Always figured it'd be Starbucks...
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:31 PM on October 29, 2013


You could try to hide but it would be like trying to hide from neutrinos.

I must face my neutrinos
I will permit them to pass over me and through me
Where the neutrinos have gone there will be nothing
Only Google will remain
posted by ook at 12:33 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Datacenter disaster recovery doesn't make any sense. There's nothing special about the location of a particular datacenter, so why would they need to haul in a replacement one if something went wrong? That's kind of the whole point of the internet, eh?

AT&T is a good guide on this. Yes they have (had?) a "portable" CO on a fleet of trucks to handle cases where an office was destroyed somehow, but that's because you need the hardware to terminate all the local lines for that office. For the case where a tandem (long distance switch) was put out of service, they had a spare 4ESS running that they could route all of the destroyed tandem's fiber connections to and load the original switches configuration onto the backup, so it would act topologically like the damaged switch but be geographically remote. Geography is unimportant when you have a network like that.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:35 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Boats are totally self contained though. They make their own power and water and have their own comms and they can move if the road network is damaged. All you need is diesel. A barge with a shallow draft can be anchored up just off shore and spliced into a mainline fiber optic cable where it makes landfall in probably a couple days to a week anywhere in the world.

Splicing them into a mid ocean cable would be impossible though. They're definitely not going to do that.

The weird thing is the containers. If I were building a floating data center I'd build a nice custom new one with power and climate control, an alarm system, fire suppression and easy way to move around inside and access my stuff, not a crappy one out of old shipping containers. Plus theyre top heavy. That makes no sense.
posted by fshgrl at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I were building a floating data center I'd build a nice custom new one with power and climate control, an alarm system, fire suppression and easy way to move around inside and access my stuff, not a crappy one out of old shipping containers.

The shipping containers make sense though if you look at how Google has traditionally done things. Fire can't spread from one container to another, and if any one container has a castrophic failure it can simply be disconnected from the rest. This is in keeping with the way they don't bother replacing servers that fail in their more traditional data centers; they just take them out of the mesh and work around them. If that's your plan to deal with failure convenient spot access also isn't necessary. Containers are also very strong and capable of being hermetically sealed, so the structure could stand up to a major storm with little risk of damage and any damage that does happen limited from spreading throughout the whole facility.

Considering that they are known to have played with data centers in containers already, this may be their plan to capitalize on that while solving what they realized was a major cooling problem.
posted by localroger at 1:19 PM on October 29, 2013


So does this mean that somewhere there is also a plan for Google Rail, with seacans on a train, powered by the diesel engines, that can be carted inland when disaster strikes?
posted by furtive at 1:44 PM on October 29, 2013


There's nothing special about the location of a particular datacenter, so why would they need to haul in a replacement one if something went wrong?

This is not the case in the modern Internet, when you are dealing with things on the scale that Google does.

There are a bunch of factors that make a datacenter's location important: proximity to users and backbone providers, cost of power and cooling, vulnerability to natural disasters, etc.

This is the only official list I've ever seen of locations. I can only assume that the locations are the result of tradeoffs between user proximity / latency and costs.

Amazon and Facebook both have similar strategies, although Amazon has its major East Coast DC located up in northern VA close to the big MAE-East interconnect, which suggests a different opinion of the various tradeoffs than Google. (And Amazon has had rather public issues with failures in the East Coast DC causing outages. Failover is hard.)

But at any rate, a failure of a DC in one particular location (particularly their single West Coast facility in Oregon or one of only three in Asia?) could conceivably degrade service. Whether the degradation from a single failure is enough to justify building a barge full of servers and keeping it on standby all the time as a sort of "hot spare", ready to be swapped in, is hard to figure. But it's at least not totally implausible.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:45 PM on October 29, 2013


Maybe it's Jager!
posted by Mister_A at 2:19 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The "independent marine engineer" from the Update link says that he once worked on a backup data storage centre for Google, and that seems like the most likely use for these barges. They wouldn't just be sitting unused somewhere - they'd be plugged into Google's network, backing up all the billions of Gmails, Google Docs and whatnot that are stored in the regular data centres. Then that data will still be there, even if there's a disaster big enough to wreck the regular infrastructure.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:39 PM on October 29, 2013


Would you run power lines out to the floating data center or would you just be counting on using giant on-board diesel generators? If it is the latter, it would get pretty expensive to run for any length of time and you'd want a shit-ton of diesel close at hand (maybe stored in adjacent barges?)
posted by Area Man at 2:44 PM on October 29, 2013


In the original patent application they were talking about using wave power. But that was on a retrofitted ship, not a barge. So who knows.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:47 PM on October 29, 2013


The "independent marine engineer" from the Update link says that he once worked on a backup data storage center for Google, and that seems like the most likely use for these barges.

So it's a really big USB drive?
posted by octothorpe at 2:55 PM on October 29, 2013


Heh, kinda. And I was just thinking, the other two "Passenger Barges" Glomar response and ook found could be the tow vehicles. Maybe they provide power too.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:02 PM on October 29, 2013


We just discussed this, in the FPP on Balaji Srinivasan with the link to the article "Silicon Valley’s Secessionist Movement Is Growing":
Srinivasan, who lectures at Stanford, is also teaching an online course on the subject of techno secession. His remarks weren't that far off from ones made earlier by Silicon Valley bigwigs like Google CEO Larry Page, who wants to "set aside a part of the world" for regulation-free technological experimentation, or investor Peter Thiel, whose "seasteader" movement wants to take out its frustrations with government by building floating societies outside the U.S.'s borders.
There are four. All four are listed with the US Coast Guard and can be looked up here:
posted by Glomar response


eponystericalish in a thread about naval vessels with unknown purpose.
posted by jjwiseman at 3:06 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really hope this is just regular, everyday villainy and not cartoonish super-villainy

I disagree. All that corruption, graft, and rent-seeking is passé. I would actually be relieved if Jamie Dimon or the Koch Brothers finally unleashed hordes of rampaging killbots. I'm tired of banal evil; our overlords at least owe us a good show.
posted by MrBadExample at 3:49 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Portland has a pretty significant shipbuilding industry, and they have some excess capacity these days due to a major defense program that just ended.

The main Maine shipbuilding industry is in Bath. Bath Iron Works, a.k.a. BIW. Cianbro's corporate headquarters in is in Portland, but its production of ships is in Brewer.
posted by miss tea at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2013


Would you run power lines out to the floating data center or would you just be counting on using giant on-board diesel generators? If it is the latter, it would get pretty expensive to run for any length of time and you'd want a shit-ton of diesel close at hand (maybe stored in adjacent barges?)

Hmmm... with a big enough solar array and a point to point link (and some deliveries and possibly unpleasant sanitation duties) it wouldn't be too difficult to float something in international waters and just breakup the flotilla and head into harbor when the weather gets bad. I don't know how legal or expensive it would be.

If the anecdote about tough mudding is true, one possibility is research into temperature difference energy creation. It's a big hope, but a datacenter cooling project would be the perfect cover for something top secret like that.
posted by deanklear at 4:45 PM on October 29, 2013


Someone get their quadcopter to buzz it and get a closer look. Also maybe some urban explorers with kayaks and night vision goggles could do some late night recon.
posted by humanfont at 5:17 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anything that floats is going to be much more fragile than a normal building, let alone a hardened facility sitting underground. Also, if there were a disaster you'd probably lose access to data connections and power. I mean, imagine sending a barge like this to New Orleans after Katrina. It would have taken weeks (at least) to get a safe place to moor it and run cables out to it, even with Google using all its influence.

I honestly can't see any good reason for this. The speed-of-light thing is implausible, and you wouldn't need a data center for it. I don't accept the data protection argument because if it's in US waters then it's vulnerable to US law, while if it's outside US waters then it's vulnerable to every country that thinks Google committing a crime. Disaster recovery ignores the fact that a barge is pretty fragile, and data centers need infrastructure that's already more fragile than an actual building. Portable data centers to meet demand? Maybe, but that demand had better be near a coast.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:21 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, for disaster recovery it would be better to have multiple redundant data centers in different areas.

For data protection, how far out would you need to be? Just at the limits of territorial water or 200 miles out beyond the edge of the exclusive economic zones?

I'm also not convinced solar would provide a reliable enough energy source for a data center. What if other data centers go down at night and the backup seaborn center has to power up? I've seen the battery rooms used to power mid sized data centers for just 15 minutes. I can't imagine you could have barges holding enough batteries to get a data center through the night.
posted by Area Man at 6:00 PM on October 29, 2013


Frankly this is just a logical evolution from the the current wave of energy efficient air cooled systems (as opposed to mechanically cooled)

The desired temperature for a white space is easily achieved with the ocean temperatures either in SF or maine.

http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2011/04/13/how-kyoto-cooling-fan-revolutionizes-data-center-hvac

http://www.kyotocooling.com/en/news.html

the only issue i would see is how to deal with high wind events in the NE.
posted by phoffmann at 6:21 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of the Gregory Benford novel "Across the Sea of Suns" when Earth is under attack by aquatic aliens. Some friendly aliens (actually the mature, benign form of the marauding aliens, which have been altered by machine intelligences that hate all organic life) help humans survive by building (spoiler) partially submersible transparent cubes.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:23 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


banshee, it's ok. Even if nobody else noticed it, or noticed it and chose not to acknowledge it, I got the Tom Waits reference in your post title and have now done both.
posted by pmbuko at 8:41 PM on October 29, 2013


This is being massively overblown. I work in infrastructure and have gone inside a few of these boxes. They aren't what you think. There are just a bunch of cats inside. Meow meow, cats, like kitty cats, a bunch of kittens and rescues. Google isn't planning anything, or, at least, I can't imagine what. I'll admit, I keep my job 'cause I don't ask a lot of questions. But if you want my honest opinion, if this is anyone's long game, well, I'd be paying closer attention to toxoplasmosis.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:36 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are just a bunch of cats inside.

So, it's a quantum computing project then. I think you may have screwed it up by looking inside. But you may be able to salvage the situation by not giving any hint to the developers about whether the cats were alive.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:15 PM on October 29, 2013


Thanks for posting this. If it's disaster recovery, it will be interesting to see how practical that is. Hurricanes are an obvious disaster that strikes coastal cities, and where you do have pretty good warning usually -- so how fast does a giant top-heavy barge move under tow?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:24 AM on October 30, 2013


So we're not dividing Steve BALlmer into 4 so he can't do anymore damage?
posted by arcticseal at 6:20 AM on October 30, 2013


Even if nobody else noticed it, or noticed it and chose not to acknowledge it, I got the Tom Waits reference in your post title and have now done both.
Good for you!

posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:11 AM on October 30, 2013


I walked by it this morning so I could check it out. It looks pretty much like a bunch of containers. I wish it had made me feel more science fictiony.
posted by miss tea at 9:18 AM on October 30, 2013


I'm concerned that Gwyneth Paltrow hasn't appeared since the end of the second act.
posted by humanfont at 12:02 PM on October 30, 2013


Metafilter: They aren't what you think. There are just a bunch of cats inside. Meow meow, cats, like kitty cats, a bunch of kittens and rescues.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:02 PM on October 30, 2013


So it's a really big USB drive?

What do you think the B stands for?

Barge.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:06 PM on October 30, 2013


In hopefully-fictional book "Avogadro Corp", the google-a-like search-and-email-and-etc. Avogadro Corporation builds floating data centres to take advantage of tidal power and sea-water cooling.

Not-Particularly-Spoiler: Bad things then happen.

I'm just hoping Google keeps these ones in nice safe in-shore waters and doesn't equip them with missile launchers.
posted by BuxtonTheRed at 5:59 PM on October 30, 2013


I think we need to be vigilant for kink.com videos that might be staged in a TEU.

Extremely vigilant.
I'm going to do another scan now just to be sure.

posted by localroger at 7:12 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


So it was just a stupid party boat.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:36 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously? That was, like, the dumbest explanation. And it's the right one? Darn.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:25 PM on November 1, 2013


Ugh.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:37 PM on November 1, 2013


I was closer than I knew. All we need is for Google to rent the barge to Kink and I WIN.
posted by localroger at 7:51 PM on November 1, 2013


I'm not convinced--no named source has verified this particular explanation. The venturebeat article refers back to a cbslocal article which cites a bunch of unnamed "sources" that verify the party boat explanation, but also says miscellaneous named people and entities (mayors, Coast Guard reps and Google itself) have "no comment".
posted by gubenuj at 10:31 PM on November 1, 2013


It's more of a floating store, with a top deck for parties, and showrooms on the lower three levels. At least, as illustrated on KPIX 5 (CBS San Francisco).
posted by filthy light thief at 5:44 AM on November 2, 2013


So let me get this straight. There is a large building in San Francisco. Access restricted. Water on the lowest level. Full of expensive toys I can't afford. And the top floor is reserved for decadent parties.

Got it.
posted by localroger at 7:18 AM on November 2, 2013


This is such a huge mistake from Google. If they want Glass to seem like something a normal human might wear they need to sell it in suburban shopping malls, not secret celebrity party barges. They are just increasing the perception that Glass is not for the average person.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:49 AM on November 2, 2013


When I think classy party, I know think "barge" and "shipping containers" not "yacht" and "hardwood paneling."
posted by entropicamericana at 9:16 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


More on the party boat.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:20 PM on November 5, 2013


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