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Pleasanton Tech Company Aims To Cool Floating Data Centers With Bay Water

ALAMEDA (KPIX) -- A Pleasanton company has an unusual idea to cool data storage machines that they say uses a fraction of the energy and cuts greenhouse gasses.

But local environmentalists are against the plan because of the possible impact it could have on San Francisco Bay.

The internet actually exists in huge industrial data storage facilities located all around the world.  Connect them together and you have the "cloud."  But the servers run hot, so most industrial data farms use evaporative air coolers, consuming millions of gallons of clean tap water.

"Data centers consume massive amounts of energy and massive amounts of water, and we've got a design that gets rid of that," said Jim Connaughton, President and CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies.

On Mare Island in Vallejo, the company is building a data center mounted on a barge that will continually suck cold water from below and then discharge it after running through cooling tubes mounted in the banks of servers.  Connaughton says it eliminates evaporation and cools much faster.

"As everybody knows, it feels a lot better to jump into a swimming pool to cool off than it does to go into an air conditioned room," explained Connaughton. "We're applying the same principal to cooling your computer servers."

When finished, the floating data center will be sent to the Port of Stockton, where it has already been fully permitted by the government.  But Nautilus also wants to build a much bigger facility in an old building on the former Navy base at Alameda.

They intend to pipe water from under a dock near the ships at the USS Hornet Museum, run it through the facility and discharge it just past a breakwater near the new Bay Ferry maintenance facility.

But Alameda Councilman Jim Oddie opposes the project and points to a group of harbor seals resting on a floating dock just inside the jetty.

"The pipe is supposed to go directly underneath where the seal haul-out is," he said.  "And they're very sensitive to movement, they're very sensitive to changes in their environment."

And the Sierra Club has weighed in with a letter to the council expressing a concern that discharging heated water into the Bay could cause a toxic algae bloom. But the company's CEO says because the water flows straight through the machinery and isn't being re-circulated it only gets about 4 degrees warmer.

"When it comes through our system, takes the heat off the computer servers and returns to the bay, the net temperature change is actually tiny," Connaughton said. "And when it hits the volume of the Bay it disappears."

If the Council votes to grant Nautilus a lease on the Alameda property, the company will still have to get the OK from state regulators who will also examine what affect the process may have on the Bay ecosystem.

State regulators have already given their approval to the Stockton barge project. The company is hoping that can begin operating by this fall.

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