Project Natick: Microsoft’s underwater Data Center


Data centers are the lifelines to all devices on the Internet. Microsoft has been working with this concept for its Natick Initiative for over five years now, and the findings are finally out. Microsoft’s team has recently demonstrated that the idea of an underwater data center is viable and that the design is realistic.

Microsoft has come up with this proposal of an underwater data center model back in 2014. The goal here was to provide accelerated cloud services to coastal communities and to save power.

The Natick project team then installed prepackaged data center systems to run on the seafloor for years to come. After June 2018, the Northern Isles data center has been humming 117 feet beneath the sea in Scotland. Step 1 of this project dealt with problems such as biofouling. However, with step 2, the team has made some drastic improvements. According to Microsoft, the trick was accomplished by Nitrogen. The nitrogen atmosphere is less destructive than oxygen, and with fewer people around the materials, the efficiency of this project has increased significantly relative to its previous run.

Adding to this are the reliably cool subsurface seas that make for energy-efficient data center architecture. The data center was established at the European Marine Energy Centre, a research site for tidal turbines and wave power converters. The data center retrieval involved smooth seas and a staged combination of robots and winches.

When delivered, the container-sized data center was brought back to the garage to run health tests on the computer rack and other parts. With the findings to their advantage, the researchers are now exploring how to convert this achievement into a wider scale – on the field. Team Natick hopes that this hardware can help them identify why underwater data center servers are eight times more reliable.

Right from the option of venue to the expectation of increasing demands, Project Natick’s team left no room for doubt. For eg, the Orkney Islands have been chosen because the grid is supported by 100% wind and solar power.

Project Natick has demonstrated that data centers can be run and kept secure without the use of freshwater energy. For Ben Cutler, who leads the study for Project Natick, the success of Phase 2 has also opened up opportunities such as an underwater datacenter co-located with an offshore wind farm. Cutler believes even moderate winds will be enough to power the data center.

Project Natick’s demonstrated durability has already attracted the interest of the Microsoft Azure team. They are now looking to service consumers who need to install and run flexible and strategic data centers everywhere in the world.

According to Microsoft, underwater data centers may support clients situated in the proximity of large bodies of water. Deepwater implementation has ready access to cooling and a managed atmosphere and has the ability to be powered by co-located renewable energy sources.

A 200 km round trip to the data center takes between 2 milliseconds and 40 milliseconds whether it is 4000 km away! This gives one an understanding of the value of proximity. Apart from that, Microsoft has become vociferous about its sustainability programs. They have been working with all sorts of green energy options in order to reach carbon neutrality. Project Natick is at the helm of these innovative Microsoft projects. Team Natick has claimed that they will use AI to control servers and that computers within Natick can be used for machine learning applications much like every other Microsoft data center.


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