Microsoft experiments with underwater data centres

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Tuesday, 02 February, 2016

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Microsoft is conducting an experimental project to build an underwater data centre that would be energy efficient, rapidly deployable and capable of meeting the expected surge in demand for cloud resources.

The company's Project Natick commenced in late 2014. Last year the company conducted a four-month trial involving operating a data centre capsule submerged in water around 1 km from the California coast.

Being submerged in deep water offers the data centre capsules easy access to cooling, renewable power sources and a controlled environment, the company said. A Natick data centre co-located with offshore renewable energy sources could potentially be zero emission.

The ultimate goal is to design containerised data centres that can be rapidly deployed within 90 days.

Microsoft envisions the Natick data centre capsules as being designed with recycled materials and having a 20-year lifespan.

Inside the capsules would be standard data centre servers modified for an underwater environment. The computing equipment itself would have a five-year lifespan. At the end of the five years, the capsules will be brought to the surface and the computer equipment replaced.

This cycle will be repeated until the capsule itself reaches end-of-life, at which point the capsule will be recycled and replaced.

According to Microsoft, the end of Moore's Law paves the way for the potential for data centres to operate without human intervention for long time periods, up to as long as 10 years.

The company noted that 50% of the world's population lives within 200 km of the sea. This means deepwater data centres could be key to both meeting anticipated exponential growth in demand for cloud resources while simultaneously helping to reduce the impact of data centre operation on global energy consumption.

Image courtesy of Microsoft.

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