Microsoft sinks data centre off Orkney

08 June, 2018, 11:34 | Author: Natasha Holloway
  • Spencer Fowers senior member of technical staff for Microsoft’s special projects research group prepares Project Natick’s Northern Isles datacenter for deployment off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Scotland

Microsoft staff will be monitoring the data center for the next year to see how it survives under water.

Spencer Fowers, senior member of technical staff for Microsoft's special projects research group, prepares Project Natick's Northern Isles datacenter for deployment off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Scotland. Last night, Microsoft announced that this moonshot research effort has reached the second phase. More than half of the world's population lives within about 120 miles of the coast, and by putting datacenters in bodies of water near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel, leading to fast and smooth web surfing, video streaming and game playing as well as authentic experiences for AI-driven technologies.

The idea is that seawater cools the banks of enclosed servers naturally, significantly cutting energy costs.

As a major player in the cloud infrastructure market, Microsoft is keen on figuring out better ways to store and power its machinery. Currently, the centers are expected to run without maintenance for 5 years. Cooling is one of the biggest costs associated with operating a conventional data center, so if submersing them can help save in that area, it's good news indeed. Microsoft says almost half the world's population lives within 150 km (120 miles) of the ocean.

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With a total of 27.6 petabytes of disk storage, the data centre has enough space for about five million full length movies. "Underwater data centers could also serve as anchor tenants for marine renewable energy such as offshore wind farms or banks of tidal turbines, allowing the two industries to evolve in lockstep".

Nope, James Cameron won't be making a blockbuster about this one day. Cooling the servers inside a modern data center is nearly as expensive as buying the equipment itself, and a networked sequence of underwater data centers could provide computing power to places around the world where environmental conditions make land-based data centers impractical.

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

Microsoft is hoping to address this issue from a number of different angles with the first-ever underwater data center.

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