Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Markets | By Josh Butler

Microsoft’s effort to build underwater datacenter reaches next phase

Microsoft’s effort to build underwater datacenter reaches next phase

The device is the work of Microsoft and it could remain underwater for up to five years as part of an investigation into energy efficiency.

Now, the Project Natick team will monitor the data centre for the next five years.

Several years ago, Microsoft got the ball rolling on a very interesting project: undersea data centers. The initiative, known as Project Natick, began in July 2014 and officially moved into phase two on Tuesday, according to a Microsoft press release. "By putting data centers in bodies of water near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel to reach coastal communities, leading to fast and smooth web surfing, video streaming and game playing as well as authentic experiences for AI-driven technologies", the company explained in a statement. Cooling is a major cost in any large-scale computing operation, so the ocean's naturally low temperatures reduce the money and energy needed to maintain the servers that connect other computers to the internet.

The island itself runs exclusively on renewable power generated by its own wind turbines and residential solar panels, and is also a sizeable testbed for tidal energy generation. Project Natick is now operating at about 100 ft below the surface of the North Sea near the UK's Orkney islands, fully powered by renewable energy.

This Davy Jones' data centre is the result of a year's worth of research into environmentally sustainable data storage technology that Redmond hopes could one day be ordered to size, rapidly deployed and left to operate at the bottom of the sea for years. This week a group of researchers deployed the first working production data center 117 feet below the surface of the sea, where it is created to work without the need for maintenance for five years.

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This is a really small data center but the number of servers should be enough to provide Microsoft with data to see if scaling up the project makes sense.

The tech giant sunk a 40-foot vessel, which contains 12 racks of computers and 864 servers, off the coast of Orkney, a group of islands located off Scotland.

Environmentalists anxious about the servers having a direct warming effect on the sea need not worry, says Microsoft, as the company's Ben Cutler told the BBC he would expect the surrounding few metres of sea to be "a few thousandths of a degree warmer at most".

As data centers tend to generate a lot of heat, big providers usually try to move them to cooler countries in order to save on energy bills.

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