Microsoft plunges self-sufficient data center into sea off Scotland

The Microsoft cylinder is loaded with 12 racks containing 864 servers and associated cooling system infrastructure

Tidal turbines and wave energy converters will help power the data center, which is as powerful as several thousand high-end consumer PCs.

Project Natick's goal is to determine if subsea data centres of different sizes that are left to operate "lights out" with no maintenance on the sea floor for up to five years are viable. The Microsoft team presented Naval Group with general specifications for the underwater datacenter and let the company take the lead on the design and manufacture of the vessel. An undersea cable serves the power the data center needs and transfers data from the data center to the internet on shore. "By putting data centers 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", the company explained in a statement.

Project Natick will stay submerged for five years if all goes to plan.

"Future Natick research will explore directly powering a Natick datacenter by a co-located ocean-based green power system, such as offshore wind or tide, with no grid connection", reads an entry on the Microsoft website.

Microsoft kicked off the second phase of its experimental underwater data center project Wednesday, submerging a shipping-container sized data center with 864 servers near the Orkney Islands in Scotland. Microsoft says there are many good reasons for drowning a data center.

"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", the release said. This week a group of researchers deployed the first working production data center 117 feet below the surface of the sea, where it is created to work without the need for maintenance for five years.

According to Microsoft, the Orkney project marks the start of the second phase of Project Natick, with the first phase serving to prove the underwater datacentre concept had legs.

During that time, the performance of the facility will be closely monitored, Microsoft wrote in a blog post outlining the project.

The undersea data center is part of the technology giant's Project Natick initiative meant to research more energy efficient data centers.

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