As reliance on computers increases, so too does the need for expansive data storage -- and today's major players are looking to the oceans to find that space. As you've probably already heard, Google is exploring the possibility of an offshore data facility , powered with Pelamis wave energy converter units. And now, Morgan Stanley is considering a plan to develop a tidal powered data center in Scotland’s Pentland Firth, which separates the Orkney Islands from the Scottish mainland.
Many of the pros and cons of wave or tidal powered data centers are considered in an article by Shawn McCarthy in Government Computer News. In McCarthy's view, siting a data center offshore might prove less expensive than dealing with the costs of local property owners and onerous land based zoning requirements. (Of course, as you probably know from reading this blog, siting a project offshore is hardly a cake-walk, and indeed, may prove more complicated than a space walk!). McCarthy also makes the point that floating data centers can be floated out of harms way, so they may be less vulnerable to natural disasters than land based facility.
But the biggest benefit that would arise from floating data systems, in McCarthy's view, is that "they can help bring the idea of electricity generation from wave power and tidal power from early adolescence into maturity." Data centers are big ticket items that could attract substantial private investment, some of which could be used to support addition improvements to wave and tidal energy to power the data centers. Morever, because the data centers would be located close to the power source, developers would save transmission costs and also avoid potential power losses that can arise when offshore power is transported over long distances.
So what's the catch? Well, the lawyer in me hates to be a naysayer, but it's not entirely clear what regulatory scheme would govern offshore data centers, particularly those located beyond state submerged lands, on the Outer Continental Shelf. If you're interested, I'm willing to share my thoughts on the likely regulatory regime that would apply to offshore data systems, but for now, that's a topic for a future post.