Microsoft’s effort to build underwater datacenter reaches next phase

Virginia Carson
June 8, 2018

Tech giant Microsoft has sunk a data centre in the sea off Orkney to look at whether it can improve energy efficiency.

The 12-rack cylinder was built in France by a shipbuilding company, Naval, with Microsoft foreseeing future deployments where cylinders are sunk in groups of five - which could be why Microsoft patented artificial reefs made out of data centers a year ago.

Having data centres with their own sustainable power supply could boost Internet connectivity around the world as data centres are regarded as the backbone of the Internet and the physical clouds of Cloud. The Northern Isle submarine server which is powered by renewable energy - no fossil fuel is required, was designed focusing on two major factors: the movement of seawater and the techniques used in maintaining submarine climate.

Because there are no people on board, the engineers could remove all the oxygen and most of the water vapour from the atmosphere to reduce the risk of...

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Microsoft is hoping to address this issue from a number of different angles with the first-ever underwater data center. But it also means that it is not possible to fix the servers if any components break.

Dubbed Project Natick, the vessel is the second from Microsoft after it launched a similar project off the Pacific Coast.

As the BBC reports, this experimental data center is called Project Natick and takes the form of a sealed cylinder packed full of 12 racks of servers.

'That is kind of a insane set of demands to make, ' said Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft AI and Research, who leads the New Experiences and Technologies (NExT) group.

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The presence of EMEC, with its expertise in renewable energy and its knowledge of the seas around Orkney, was one factor behind Microsoft's decision to choose this location. Microsoft says almost half the world's population lives within 150 km (120 miles) of the ocean.

The undersea data center is part of the technology giant's Project Natick initiative meant to research more energy efficient data centers.

The team will monitor the subsea datacenter for the next 12 months to see how it performs in the underwater environment.

Microsoft suggests that if the project gains commercial success, these underwater datacenters could also serve as anchor tenants for marine renewable energy such as offshore wind farms or banks of tidal turbines. The thought behind this research is that data centres will naturally remain cooler on the sea floor than they do on land.

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Data centers have always been criticized by environmental groups for their egregious energy use across the globe.

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