Shipshape or dead weight? Google's secret project sets sail

A floating data center? A windowless Google Glass store? Google's barge in the bay is drawing lots of speculation

I bet you thought Apple building a $5 billion headquarters that looks like something out of "Battlestar Galactica" was over the top. Well, the Cupertino clan and their spaceship HQ have nothing on Google.

Apparently the advertising giant is erecting a mystery structure in the middle of San Francisco Bay, next to Treasure Island, in the shadow of the newly refurbished Bay Bridge. CNET's Daniel Terdiman reported late last week that whatever the structure is -- based on photos, it looks like a four-story stack of cargo containers partially obscured with scaffolding -- it is a secret Google project.

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There are two competing theories as to what that thing is, and I can't decide which is stranger.

Highly illogical

Theory no. 1: Google is building a floating data center ... maybe? San Francisco real estate has always been insanely expensive, more so now than ever, thanks in part to hordes of 22-year-old Google, Facebook, and Twitter engineers pulling down $100,000-plus salaries and driving up the prices. Building a structure on the water might actually be cheaper than doing it on dirt.

Per the presumably sober Terdiman:

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.

Adding more mystery to the story is the fact that there's apparently an identical structure, owned by the same shell company (By and Large LLC), on a barge outside of Portland, Maine.

Theory no. 2: The company is building a Google Glass store -- again, one with certain vague nautical properties. That news comes via Bay Area CBS affiliate KPIX 5. Per KPIX reporter Allen Martin:

KPIX 5 has learned that Google is actually building a floating marketing center, a kind of giant Apple store, if you will -- but for Google Glass, the cutting-edge wearable computer the company has under development.

Although Google wouldn't respond to requests for comment for this story, sources close to the project told KPIX 5 that Google hopes to tow the completed structure from Treasure Island across the Bay to San Francisco's Fort Mason, where it would be anchored and open to the public.

If the Big One finally hits and San Francisco sinks to the bottom of the Pacific, at least the G-Store will still be there, allowing overly entitled pasty white guys to get their consumer electronics fix. They might have to swim for it, though.

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