After two years of tests, Microsoft is convinced it can create underwater data centers that are self-sufficient, eco-friendly, and fail at a much lower rate than their land counterparts.
In 2018, Microsoft sent its first underwater data center to the bottom of the ocean floor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The culmination of a four year research effort, Project Natick’s stated goal then was to make data centers rapidly deployable and provide coastal regions with more cloud computing services.
As we wrote at the time:
In addition to cutting down the amount of time needed to create a data center on land from about 2 years to around 90 days, the submarine data center has the added benefit of natural cooling from the ocean, eliminating one of the biggest costs of running a data center on land. The bottom of the ocean is also isolated from many disasters that could affect land based data centers, such as war or hurricanes, although Microsoft did not mention how difficult it would be to make repairs to the servers inside the container should they malfunction.
In a recent blog post, Microsoft said the experiment’s success has “prompted discussions” on how to “serve customers who need to deploy and operate tactical and critical data centers anywhere in the world.”
Microsoft said that server failure rate was one-eighth of what it sees on land, and hypothesizes that “the atmosphere of nitrogen, which is less corrosive than oxygen, and the absence of people to bump and jostle components, are the primary reasons for the difference.” Theoretically, Microsoft said, future underwater data centers would swap out servers every five years, and the few servers that fail would simply be taken offline.
Continually running computations on huge collections of data, like cryptocurrency mining or machine learning, results in a surprisingly large amount of energy, which of course comes with a worrying carbon footprint.
Project Natick seems like a promising way to mitigate some of that carbon footprint, but there’s a lot more Microsoft could do right now if climate change was a primary concern for the company.
The rush for cloud computing services has created a lucrative relationship between Big Tech and Big Oil & Gas—one that Microsoft also enjoys thanks to partnerships with some of the largest polluters in the world (Shell, Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil) to actually optimize their fossil fuel extraction efforts.
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