Google patents containerized data centers
October 09, 2007
Google was today granted a patent for a data-center-in-a-shipping-container that sounds a lot like Sun Microsystems' Blackbox and Rackable's Concentro. Spotted by a Slashdotter, the patent appears to be quite broad, covering "modular data centers with modular components" that "can be implemented in numerous ways, including as a process, an apparatus, a system, a device, or a method." In one embodiment specified in the patent:
a modular data center generally includes a modular computing module including an intermodal shipping container and computing systems mounted within the container and configured to be shipped and operated within the container and a temperature control system for maintaining the air temperature surrounding the computing systems ... The modular design enables the modules to be factory built and easily transported to and deployed at a data center site.
The patent, which was originally applied for back in December 2003, also covers the "method for deploying a data center, comprising: building at least one modular computing module at a first site, each including: a shipping container configured for transport via a transport infrastructure; and a plurality of computing systems mounted within the shipping container [and] transporting [the container] to the data center site different from the first site via the transport infrastructure; and connecting at least one resource connection to the at least one modular computing module." The resource connections include "electricity, natural gas, water, and Internet access."
In setting out the context for the invention, the patent appears to provide a little peak into Google's own data centers: "a large scale deployment of a server farm such as a mega data center may involve 300,000 computers, with a service life of approximately four years per machine. In such a large scale server farm, an average of over 1,400 computers per week are de-racked and racked just to keep pace with end-of-service machines. At a rack density of 40 trays per rack and 1 computer per tray, approximately 36 racks are replaced each week." It also provides a hint of Google's broader strategy for siting data centers, noting that a containerized data center "facilitates rapid and easy relocation to another site depending on changing economic factors, for example. The modular data center thus helps to make the moving of a data center more cost effective and thus more economically feasible."
It will be interesting to see what this patent means for Sun and the other pioneers of trailer park computing.
UPDATE: The Register has Sun's first comment: ""We are aware of a modular data center patent being issued to Google. Our legal team is reviewing the patent, as this is a broad concept. Until that review is complete, we don't have further comment." Sounds like they were surprised.
That patent WILL NOT SURVIVE even in the Texas circuit for the simple reason that the technology in question is *clearly* present in prior teachings. Multiple of the favorite Sci-fi authors of the silly valley crowd have suggested very, very similar ideas. Some MIT project or other worked on "what industrial toolkits can you pack into a shipping container" etc. There was even an art group in Berkeley, since kicked out, exploring the shipping container design space systematically, if eccentrically (and, at least officially, in a way that endangered public safety). This patent doesn't stand a chance (and it's not even a software patent!)
Thinking of clever ways to explain why an obvious invention is obviously valuable does not make it less obvious.
Posted by: Tom Lord at October 9, 2007 05:33 PM
It's important to consider that large companies patent ideas defensively. So, patent sharks can't come along later and sue them for using their ideas.
Google doesn't have a history of using their patents offensively. Most companies don't. It will likely be very damaging for a company to use patents competitively since the party most often damaged by patent damages is the customer since the cost of goods and services go up to cover the money exchanged.
The patent fees paid by RIM come to mind. They survived the outcome and have a secure base of loyal users based upon innovation on some simple "patentable" ideas.
Posted by: mcd at October 10, 2007 02:48 PM
Google's concept will work GREAT in areas affected by major disasters, especially if their containers are accompanied by another container with generators or solar power, satellite links, etc.
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