Barge with shipping containers suspected
of being a floating data center owned by Google.
Credit: James Martin/CNET 

By now most of you have heard about the barges suspected to be Google’s floating data centers. CNET reported the first on Friday:

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 Google’s fingerprints are all over it.

It’s unclear what’s inside the structure, which stands about four stories high and was made with a series of modern cargo containers. The same goes for when it will be unveiled, but the big tease has already begun. Locals refer to it as the secret project.

Google did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But after going through lease agreements, tracking a contact tied to the project on LinkedIn, talking to locals on Treasure Island, and consulting with experts, it’s all but certain that Google is the entity that is building the massive structure that’s in plain sight, but behind tight security.

Could the structure be a sea-faring data center? One expert who was shown pictures of the structure thinks so, especially because being on a barge provides easy access to a source of cooling, as well as an inexpensive source of power — the sea. And even more tellingly, Google was granted a patent in 2009 for a floating data center, and putting data centers inside shipping containers is already a well-established practice.

Barge seen in Portland, Maine with very similar structure.
Data center? Office space?
Credit: John Ewing/Portland Press Herald

They also reported another, nearly identical barge off the coast of Maine:

Now it seems as though Google may well have built a sister version of the project, and, according to the Portland Press Herald, it recently showed up in the harbor in Portland, Maine.

In both cases, the structures on both barges appear to be made from a number of shipping containers, many of which have small slats for windows, and each has one container that slants down to ground level at a 45-degree angle.

I wouldn’t be surprised that they’d build a floating data center, but I do wonder why the containers would have windows. Maybe it’s to make negotiating the interior easier when there’s no power. As much as I’d love to see it turn out to be a data center, I could also see it being temporary housing, or a proof of concept for a new way to building housing.

If it is a data center, there’s no word yet on whether they’ll be arming them with autonomous fighting robots.