Are Underwater Data Centers the Future?

March 2, 2016

Microsoft tests innovative marine design.

Would you be comfortable knowing your data center is located at the bottom of the ocean? A new concept from Microsoft puts cloud computing down under the sea. Called Project Natick, the prototype sat on the floor of the Pacific for four months in the fall of 2015. It was placed in waters over a half mile from the U.S. coast and supplied by on-shore power.

Server storage continues to grow across all business sectors yet data centers require intensive resources to maintain their 24/7 operations. Microsoft’s goal is to develop a solution that is less expensive, easier to deploy and more sustainable than land-based options. 

One of the benefits of these marine sites is their proximity to users. According to Microsoft, “over half of the world’s population lives within 200 kilometers of the sea.” With such a high density of people within 124 miles of the coast, locating data centers close to end users would significantly improve reliability. Underwater storage would also ensure that valuable real estate is left for other development purposes.

In addition to obvious security benefits, the containerized units have a controlled source of natural cooling as deep water progressively becomes colder. While this test project was connected to the traditional grid, Microsoft foresees greener configurations in the future.

“A Natick data center co-located with offshore renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, tide or current could be truly zero emission: no waste products, whether due to the power generation, computers or human maintainers, are emitted into the environment,” explains the project overview.

The submerged data centers will last up to five years, which is when new computers need to be reloaded. The shell is expected to last up to 20 years and will be fully recyclable to minimize its end-of-life disposal.

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