Analysis from Microsoft’s ‘Project Natick’ suggests that underwater data centres could be eight times more reliable than their dry land counterparts, whilst also keeping energy and operation costs low.
The tech giant has recently concluded a years-long experiment involving a shipping container-sized underwater data centre, placed on the sea floor off the cost of Scotland’s Orkney Islands.
The company pulled its “Project Natick” underwater data warehouse up out of the water over the summer and has spent the last few months studying the data centre, and the air it contained, to determine the model’s viability.
The results not only revealed that using these offshore submerged data centres appear to work well in terms of performance, but also showed that the servers contained within the data centre proved to be up to eight times more reliable than those in dry-land facilities. Researchers are now looking into exactly what was responsible for this greater reliability rate in the hopes of translating those advantages to land-based server farms.
Other benefits included being able to operate with greater power efficiency, especially in regions where the grid on land is not considered reliable enough for sustained operation. This is due in part to the decreased need for artificial cooling for the servers located within the data farm because of the conditions at the sea floor. The Orkney Island area is covered by a 100% renewable grid supplied by both wind and solar, and while variances in the availability of both power sources would have proven a challenge for the infrastructure power requirements of a traditional, overland data centre in the same region, the grid was more than sufficient for the same size operation underwater.
Microsoft’s Natick experiment was meant to show that portable, flexible data centre deployments in coastal areas around the world could prove a modular way to scale up data centre needs while keeping energy and operation costs low. The project was also concerned with keeping smaller data centres closer to where customers need them, rather than routing large amounts of data globally via centralised hubs. So far, the project seems to have done spectacularly well at showing that.
The next move for Microsoft will be to investigate the scaling up of these underwater data centres, in terms of size and performance, by linking more than one together.