Microsoft data centers house the company’s computer systems. Microsoft has more than 100 data centers and is establishing more fairly quickly. The data centers have substantial, and costly, energy requirements for firms to meet. This has prompted Microsoft to research innovative new ways to establish underwater data centers.
Yes, you heard correctly, Microsoft has researched and tried out underwater data centers. This was a project proposal first made in 2014, and now the company has effectively tested an underwater data center as part of Project Natick. Microsoft said of the project:
“Project Natick is a Microsoft research project to manufacture and operate an underwater data center. The initial experimental prototype vessel, christened the Leona Philpot after a popular Xbox game character, was operated on the seafloor approximately one kilometer off the Pacific coast of the United States from August to November of 2015. Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud data center solutions that provide rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and are more environmentally sustainable.”
The project included a trial of a steel capsule placed 30 feet under the water in the Pacific Ocean. Although some of the researchers might have doubted the trial, the new underwater system worked effectively enough. Consequently, engineers extended the experiment.
Now Microsoft is expanding the underwater data center project with a new, larger system. That underwater system is going to be three times larger than the first trial. This latest trial could take place in Florida.
The proposed underwater data centers could be left under the sea for up to five years. So that would mean installing capsules that have no maintenance requirements for the period. Most servers usually need some repairs after five years, so Microsoft would have to include more robust servers that still need developing.
Underwater data centers have a number of potential advantages. For starters, underwater centers would reduce overheating that can crash servers. Furthermore, the centers could take advantage of water energy with a turbine or tidal energy systems.
So although underwater data centers sound bizarre, they might make a lot of sense and provide IT companies with considerable advantages. However, they could also have environmental consequences. It will be interesting to see if this latest innovation from Microsoft inspires other software companies such as Apple to invest in similar projects.