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Microsoft hauls algae-ridden data centre from the sea floor

Written by Tue 15 Sep 2020

Microsoft declares Project Natick declared a success

Microsoft says underwater data centres are not just feasible but even more reliable than their land-dwelling counterparts after succesfully concluding an experimental subsea data centre project.

This summer, Microsoft retrieved a container-sized data centre dropped 118-feet deep to the Scottish seafloor in spring 2018 as part of Phase II of Project Natick, a two-year research effort investigating the performance, reliability and viability of submerged servers.

While an earlier 105-day deployment in the Pacific Ocean proved the feasibility of the concept, Microsoft said the success of the Northern Isles facility, which was powered by 100 percent renewables, has shown that the concept is logistically, environmentally and economically practical.

The data centre tested during Phase II was developed by Naval Group and maintained by Green Marine, an Orkney-based firm which also retrieved and deployed the facility using robotics.

Once brought back above sea-level, Green Marine power washed the water-tight steel tube that encased the facility’s 864 servers and cooling system infrastructure.

The researchers then inserted test tubes through a valve at the top of the vessel to collect air samples for analysis at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, before shipping the data centre for health checks at a facility in the North of Scotland.

Initial results show that the underwater servers are eight times as reliable as those on land, and Microsoft researchers have sent a handful of failed servers and cables to Redmond for deeper analysis to understand why.

The team suspects the less-corrosive nitrogen atmosphere and people-free environment are the mean reasons they endured, which if correct could one day influence the designs of data centres on land.

Microsoft said the findings from Project Natick could also pave the way for its Azure cloud platform to be powered by a web of underwater data centres.

“As we are moving from generic cloud computing to cloud and edge computing, we are seeing more and more need to have smaller datacenters located closer to customers instead of these large warehouse datacenters out in the middle of nowhere,” said Spencer Fowers, a principal member of technical staff for Microsoft’s Special Projects research group.

Written by Tue 15 Sep 2020


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