Underwater Data Centers: Why Microsoft is Putting Servers in the Ocean

Underwater data centers sound a bit counterintuitive, to say the least.

The last thing technology equipment needs is more water. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of a data center is knowing that your data is safe from floods and water damage.

But Microsoft thought it could work, and believe it or not, the data center was a success. In this article, we’ll tell you the story of this novel experiment and how its future may impact you.

The Beginning of Underwater Data Centers

The data center projected culminated in 2020. But the idea came from Microsoft’s 2014 ThinkWeek, an international conference promoting unconventional ideas.

This specific unconventional idea also had practical implications. The majority of the world’s population lives near the coast, but coastal data centers suffer from high property costs and catastrophes like hurricanes and tsunamis. Putting one underwater could mitigate these issues.

And, as the ocean would cool the equipment naturally, researchers believed an underwater data center would need less power. This step in Microsoft’s sustainability efforts would also lower the cost of a data center.

Next they developed a proof of concept. In 2015, Microsoft deployed a 105-day test of a data center in the Pacific OceanThe results were more than satisfactory, so they planned a full test.

In 2018, Project Natick began in the Northern Isles of Scotland. Because of the sea’s instability and the size of the hull, it took over a day to submerge the data center into the sea.

Over the next two years, employees monitored and tested the 864 servers from land. And in 2020, it was time to bring the equipment back to shore.

Results of Project Natick

Project Natick, Vessel retrieval Stromness, Orkney. Microsoft – Tuesday 7th to Wednesday 15th of July 2020

The data center’s white hull had turned green with sea algae and barnacles. After power washing, the team took samples of the air on board to better understand how the equipment changed underwater.

Although some servers failed, the data center was more reliable than Microsoft’s land-based data centers by a factor of eight. 

Physical isolation played a key role in ensuring the data center’s reliability. Microsoft’s giant, land-based data centers always have people in them, making it easy for someone to pull the wrong cord or fall onto a server.

The Future of Underwater Data Centers

For now, Microsoft is the only company to have developed an underwater data center. But because of its great success, it might not be long before other companies follow suit.

For most people, your data won’t be underwater anytime soon as the next steps are only beginning. And if you don’t live near the coast, your data may never be underwater.

It may be even longer before a business could collocate underwater. By nature, underwater data centers must be lights-out data centers, which are locations rarely accessed by people. A business would have a difficult time purchasing space in one of these locations.

The good news is that you don’t need to visit the ocean to protect your information. Colocation in land-based data centers offers protection without needing to scuba. If you’d like to learn more, please contact us today!

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