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Microsoft Sinks Data Center in the Sea to Meet Environmental Goals

08 June 2018

U.S. tech giant Microsoft has submerged a data center off the Orkney archipelago in northern Scotland in a project to save on the energy used to cool the servers on land, the firm said on Wednesday, June 6.

Project Natick's Northern Isles datacenter is partially submerged and cradled by winches and cranes between the pontoons of an industrial catamaran-like gantry barge.

It is hoped that the research project, known as Natick, will surface design and operational issues to inform whether it can make this a reality for more data centers around the world.

"We know if we can put something in here and it survives, we are good for just about any place we want to go", said Microsoft's special projects researcher, Ben Cutler, in the blog post. Project Natick is the name of the test pilot that uses a small data center, packed into a shipping container and dropped to the bottom of the sea. 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. Microsoft is testing the theory that the cold ocean depths can cut costs required to keep the data center cool.

Environmentalists anxious about the servers having a direct warming effect on the sea need not worry, says Microsoft, as the company's Ben Cutler told the BBC he would expect the surrounding few metres of sea to be "a few thousandths of a degree warmer at most".

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It includes 12 racks with 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage which is enough for around 5 million films.

Christian Belady, general manager of cloud infrastructure strategy and architecture, said their hope is to one day have a fleet of data centers with their own sustainable power supply that can be sent anywhere.

Microsoft is doing something that sounds very unusual at first glance; it has taken a fully functional data center and sunk it into the dark ocean depths.

The data center is powered by renewable energy.

Dunking the data center in Orkney waters will limit the cost of cooling the machines - an enormous expense for many data center operators, and it will also allow the center to benefit from the islands' renewable energy, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft Sinks Data Center in the Sea to Meet Environmental Goals