Microsoft experiments with underwater datacentre

We’ve all heard of hosting data in the cloud, but what about under the sea? Well, a recent Microsoft study into the viability of underwater datacentres has put this notion to the test.

Project Natick saw Microsoft engineers drop a 38,000-pound, 10ft by 7ft container into the Pacific Ocean last year. It was then monitored to see how effective this approach could be; not just for the storage of data but for the efficient cooling of systems and improved latency (the speed in which data travels from source to destination).

The potential benefits

It’s estimated that data centres account for three per cent of the world’s entire electricity consumption. This isn’t just for powering the datacentres but also keeping them cool. In the harsh, cold temperatures of the ocean floor, cooling can be done naturally and automatically, thereby drastically reducing the power required. There’s also a positive environmental impact.

What’s more, with half the world’s population located within 125 miles of the coast, underwater datacentres could help reduce latency by bringing people closer to the physical location of their data.

Pushing the boundaries

Microsoft isn’t the first to experiment with new places to house its datacentres. Facebook announced in 2013 that it was to open a centre in Sweden’s remote far north, just 70 miles outside of the Arctic Circle. Whilst this location helps with the cooling issues, it doesn’t work quite so well as Project Natick in terms of latency.

Microsoft’s project started in August last year, when the vessel was lowered into the ocean off the coast of California. It was raised again in December and has since been undergoing tests in order to ascertain how much of a success it was. Only this year did Microsoft officially unveil what it had been undertaking.

Head of special projects at Microsoft Research NExT, Norm Whittaker, said: “We’re a small group and we look at moonshot projects.

“As we started exploring the space it started to make more and more sense. We had a mind-bending challenge, but also a chance to push boundaries. The bottom line is that in one day this thing was deployed, hooked up and running. Then everyone is back here, controlling it remotely. A wild ocean adventure turned out to be a regular day at the office.”

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