The patent, granted Tuesday, covers "modular data centers with modular components that can implemented in numerous ways, including as a process, an apparatus, a system, a device, or a method."
The overall method of assembly and delivery is similar to the pre-fabricated home or mobile home.
The U.S. Patent Trademark Office site reveals patent number 7,278,273 as describing modules in intermodal shipping containers, or those that can be shipped by multiple carriers and systems. It also covers computing systems mounted within temperature-controlled containers, configured so they can ship easily, be factory built and deployed at data center sites.
Granted to Google inventors William Whitted and Gerald Aigner, the patent also covers a method for deployment that includes building one module within a ready-to-ship container, shipment via a transport infrastructure, several computing systems mounting within the container and transporting the container to a new site via the infrastructure. Finally, it states that deployment will involve connecting at least one resource connection -- like electricity, natural gas, water and Internet access -- to at least one module.
If this sounds familiar, it might just be. Google's patent description resembles Sun Microsystems' data center in a box, called Project Blackbox. During its debut last year, Sun installed a Blackbox -- essentially a cargo container for 18-wheelers -- outside of Grand Central Station in New York City to show how easily one of their data centers could be installed.
While each company is expected to claim first rights to the idea of putting data center components in a shipping container, none of the companies so far have made official postures leaning toward a patent infringement suit.
The Google patent and the products come at a time when industry experts predict a worsening space crunch for data centers due to high performance demands and expensive real estate prices.