September 17

After two years resting on the ocean floor off the coast of Scotland, Microsoft researchers have retrieved an underwater data center to see how it fared. This wasn’t data overboard but data submerged!

Inspecting servers inside the opened undersea Project Natick datacenter container. Photo: Microsoft

About the size of a shipping container the Project Natick experiment was to explore the viability of underwater data centers as both technologically feasible and practical but also environmentally beneficial. The cylinder had been operating full of server racks with 27.6 petabytes of data on board for two years while being monitored. The servers fared quite well. On average the failure rate of hardware inside was 1/8th of conventional land-based server farms. Helping that positive statistic may have been the lack of oxygen and utilizing ocean-cooled water to help keep processing temperatures down. Cooling is a big challenge in data center environments and having plenty of chilly water around was handy. Environmental benefits stemmed from less energy use as a result. With power being supplied by the Scottish region’s wind and solar options and more efficient use in the data center the long-term sustainability of the operation looks promising for the future. Other than a large amount of barnacles to wash and scrape off, the researchers will further analyse what went well with the experiment and move to future considerations for data center deployments.

Watch this interview with some behind-the-scenes footage of the project and resurfacing of the container!

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