Data centers are hot, noisy and usually inefficiently located. Microsoft's solution? Put them at the bottom of the sea. Following initial prototype testing, the company's years-long Project Natick is finally delivering Microsoft's vision of sustainable, prepackaged and rapidly deployed data centers that operate from the seafloor. Yep. Underwater.
The first such data center has been installed using submarine technology on the seafloor near Scotland's Orkney Islands, and is already processing workloads via 12 racks of 864 servers. The system requires just under a quarter of a megawatt of power when operating at full capacity, which comes from renewable energy generated onshore. The shipping container-sized set-up also includes cooling technology, but much of the usual logistics and costs surrounding this have been eliminated thanks to the ocean's naturally low temperatures at depth.
The team will spend the next 12 months monitoring the performance of the data center, keeping tabs on everything from power consumption and internal humidity, to sound and temperature levels – although it's been designed to operate for at least five years without maintenance. It'll also keep a close eye on environmental impacts.
The project is born of an increasing demand for cloud computing infrastructure near heavily-populated areas. While putting data centers in the sea might seem counterintuitive, more than half of the world's population lives within 120 miles of the coast – an area rich with renewable energy potential – so positioning them here means a faster, smoother online experience for local communities. So if all goes to plan, Project Natick could mark the beginning of a completely new way of managing internet connectivity.