Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Economy | By Shawn Conner

Microsoft plunges self-sufficient data center into sea off Scotland

Microsoft plunges self-sufficient data center into sea off Scotland

An underwater cable from the European Marine Energy Centre on the Orkney Islands will power the data centre. The hope is that the test goes well and Microsoft can eventually deploy similar portable data centers off the coast of major cities.

Why take all this effort to dunk data centers underwater? An undersea cable serves the power the data center needs and transfers data from the data center to the internet on shore.

The data center is placed in a cylinder that was made by shipbuilder Naval. By putting data centres 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.

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Project Natick's Northern Isles datacenter is partially submerged and cradled by winches and cranes between the pontoons of an industrial catamaran-like gantry barge.

"When you are in this kind of exponential growth curve, it tells you that most of the datacenters that we'll ever build we haven't built yet", said Ben Cutler, leader of the Project Natick team in the release.

The world's oceans at depth are consistently cold, offering ready and free access to cooling, which is one of the biggest costs for land-based datacenters.

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The submerged data center includes 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage - or almost 28 million gigabytes. So the key idea behind this project is to research more energy efficient data centers that would save a lot of resources and reduce company's carbon footprint.

This research project, dubbed as Project Natick, involves a 40-foot long data-center pod that includes 12 racks holding 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage. The energy centre is a test site for experimental tidal turbines and wave energy converters that generate electricity from the movement of seawater. If successful, Microsoft will keep operating the servers, and allow its customers to use it to run their own computations.Currently, Project Natick sits on sea bottom owned by the Scottish government, but the data center is designed such that it could fit into standard shipping containers and delivered where it's most wanted.

"Like any new vehicle, we kick the tires and run the engine in different speeds to make sure everything works well", said Spencer Flowers, who is a senior member of technical staff for Microsoft's special projects.

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