Clouds in the ocean: Microsoft analyzes the feasibility of underwater data centers

Picture: Microsoft

In 2014, Microsoft was convinced that a seal container at the bottom of the ocean could provide ways to improve the overall reliability of data centers, so in 2015, it tested its first underwater data center.

After working on its design and proving its feasibility, the company deployed a pod full of servers off the coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands in 2018.

The Northern Isles Underwater Data Center was constructed by the Naval Group and its subsidiary Naval Energy. Orkney Island-based Green Marine was also involved, supporting the Naval Group and Microsoft on the deployment, maintenance, monitoring and recovery of the data center, which was operated by Microsoft.

The data center was deployed at the European Marine Energy Center, a test site for tidal turbines and wave energy converters.

After a few years of testing, the company has stood by its call that underwater data centers are possible, as well as logically, environmentally and economically viable.

See also: Microsoft CEO Nadella: Underwater data centers are the future

In a blog post, the company detailed the recovery of the underwater data center, which was deployed 117 feet deep above sea level. The pod consisted of 864 servers with the associated cooling system infrastructure.

“Consistently calm subsurface seas also allow for energy-efficient data center designs. For example, they can take advantage of the heat-exchange plumbing found on submarines,” the blog post stated.

After its retrieval, the container was cleaned and discharged for health check-up. Microsoft said there were a handful of servers and related cables, but Ben Cutler, a project manager at Microsoft’s Special Projects Research Group, who is currently heading the underwater data center initiative known as Project Natick, Claimed that the servers in the underwater data center were eight more reliable than the land.

“The team estimates that the atmosphere of nitrogen, which is less corrosive than oxygen, and the collision of people and the absence of jostle components, are the primary causes of the difference. If the analysis proves this to be true, the team will be able to translate May. Findings for data centers, “the blog continued.

Cutler said the team will now think about scenarios for using underwater data centers, such as locating underwater data centers with an offshore windmill. Other stability-related benefits may include eliminating the need to use replacement parts, he said, noting that the high reliability of servers means that some that fail quickly may simply be taken offline. .

In addition, he said that Project Netik showed that data centers can be operated and kept cold without tapping into freshwater resources.

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“Now Microsoft is going to find ways to do this for land data centers,” he said.

With the increasing need for edge computing, Microsoft stated that there is a growing need to keep smaller data centers closer to customers rather than large warehouse data centers.

“We’re expanding the globe with edge devices, big and small,” said William Chappell, vice president of mission systems for Azure. “To realize that not enough human touch is needed to make data centers reliable, we have a dream.”

The Azure team rode the project, stating the ability to allow Azure to serve customers in need to deploy and operate strategic and critical data centers anywhere in the world.

The findings are also informing Microsoft’s data center sustainability strategy.

In January, Microsoft announced its plans to be carbon-negative by 2030. To provide carbon emission reduction, “grounding in carbon and mathematics”, carbon reduction and removal techniques and transparency under the scheme.

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