Microsoft deploys data centre on sea floor to test energy efficiency

Adjust Comment Print

The Orkney islands happen to also generate more than 100% of their energy from wind, solar, and tidal sources. Consider that compared to the many months or even years it takes to approve and develop an on-land data center and you can see why this is attractive.

Project Natick is now in its second phase, in which the data center is still physically hooked up to an onshore, renewable power source.

Microsoft on Wednesday tested an undersea data center, which the technology giant claims is quick to deploy and could provide internet connectivity for years.

"Energy self-sufficient data centers could be deployed anywhere within reach of a data pipe, bringing Azure cloud services, for example, to regions of the world with unreliable electricity, and eliminate the need for costly backup generators in case of power grid failures", the release said.

If Project Natick is successful, Microsoft will put up to five of these cylinders underwater at once, which will remain on the sea's surface for five years.

Spencer Fowers of Microsoft's special projects research group seals a logo onto Project Natick's Northern Isles datacenter in preparation for deployment.

Water-cooling systems have always been used to keep computers from overheating, but how do you scale that up for huge data centers?

Later in 2016, at DCD's Enterprise event in NY, the company said that the test had proved a success and that it would follow up with larger tests - now, in 2018, it appears that Microsoft is ready to do just that.

This research project, dubbed as Project Natick, involves a 40-foot long data-center pod that includes 12 racks holding 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage.

According to Microsoft, the underwater Northern Isles data center will be able to store and process data for up to five years without maintenance.

More than half the world's population lives less than 200 kilometres from the coast, Microsoft noted.

The units runs exclusively on locally sourced renewable power, with an expected life cycle of about five years (which Microsoft hopes to push up to 20 years). Cooling is one of the biggest costs associated with operating a conventional data center, so if submersing them can help save in that area, it's good news indeed.

The underwater data centre concept was originally presented in a white paper prepared for a Microsoft event called ThinkWeek that encourages employees to share out-of-the-box ideas.