Anchors Aweigh! Nautilus Christens First Floating Datacenter

By: Paul Alcorn Tom's IT Pro

Avast mateys, Nautilus Data Technologies aims to make waves with its new floating data-center prototype. Actually, there is no need to batten down the hatches, as the commercial waterborne data-center is on a permanently moored barge. However, the company is hopeful that the promise of increased PuE efficiency will generate waves of interest in the data-center space.

The battle to combat ever-rising energy costs already spurred a number of techniques that take advantage of renewable energy to reduce cost, including data-centers powered by geothermal energy and dams, along with the requisite solar implementations.

Cooling is one of the highest ongoing expenses in a traditional data-center, and the more-common approach to reducing energy costs is to reduce or remove cooling. Several hyper-scale data-centers have adopted open-air designs that feature either no cooling, or very limited cooling. Nautilus’s approach leverages water to significantly reduce the typical cooling-related power expenditure.

The concept of a waterborne data-center isn’t entirely new; in fact, Google has a patent for a proposed ship-borne data center that actually moves and generates electricity from waves. If Google is actively developing that concept, the company is keeping it under wraps. The Nautilus Waterborne Data Center solution is the only commercialized field-tested technique we’re aware of.

The Waterborne Data Center (christened “Eli M” in honor of CEO Arnold Magscale’s mother) is actually a fully functional version of the previous proof-of-concept prototype, which the company indicated achieved a 30 percent decrease in energy consumption and operating costs in comparison to land-based facilities.

Nautilus mounted the data-center floor space on top of an ocean-worthy barge moored in a secure port and utilizes the water below the barge to cool the interior. The system employs a secondary closed-loop heat exchange technique that does not waste water, which is a considerable advantage over other implementations. Nautilus claimed this can save up to 130 million gallons of water a year in comparison to a mid-size land-based data-center with a water cooling architecture.

Power delivery, conversion and backup systems occupy a large portion of any data-center, and the Nautilus approach keeps these critical systems on dry land. Nautilus routes power and Internet connections through multiple locations to ensure redundancy.

The water-bound location of the 30,000 square feet of data-center floor space may be an attractive alternative in earthquake-prone coastal regions, such as California. Nautilus also indicated that the removal of cooling and power equipment magnifies the 30,000 square feet to an equivalent of 80,000 square feet in a land-based data-center.

Nautilus plans to deploy additional barges worldwide, and the company is backed by $25 million in private investments. The company also features a range of DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) tools, which Nautilus will likely employ in its floating data centers.

The long-term viability of a waterborne approach sounds radical, but many considered open-air data-center cooling to be a radical approach when introduced several years ago. Open-air data-centers have gained tremendous traction, but they are limited to certain geographical areas due to weather patterns. Open-air designs also tend to be relegated to large-scale deployments.

Nautilus features a similar geographic limitation — it requires a large body of water. However, it can address the needs of smaller-than-hyper-scale customers, and it is utilizing its inaugural data-center for hosting, collocation and cloud services for primary computing needs, business continuity and disaster recovery services.

In either case, the new design delivers a shot across the bow of high and dry land-based datacenters, but only time will tell if waterborne data-centers win the battle or walk the plank.

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