Microsoft underwater datacenter

The underwater datacenter concept splashed onto the scene at Microsoft in 2014 during ThinkWeek, an event that gathers employees to share out-of-the-box ideas. The concept was considered a potential way to provide lightning-quick cloud services to coastal populations and save energy.

More than half the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the coast. By putting datacenters underwater near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel, leading to fast and smooth web surfing, video streaming and game playing.

The consistently cool subsurface seas also allow for energy-efficient datacenter designs. For example, they can leverage heat-exchange plumbing such as that found on submarines.

Microsoft’s Project Natick team proved the underwater datacenter concept was feasible during a 105-day deployment in the Pacific Ocean in 2015.

Crew cleans off the Project Natick datacenter

Earlier this summer, marine specialists reeled up a shipping-container-size datacenter coated in algae, barnacles and sea anemones from the seafloor off Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

The retrieval launched the final phase of a years-long effort that proved the concept of underwater datacenters is feasible, as well as logistically, environmentally and economically practical.

Microsoft finds underwater datacenters are reliable, practical and use energy sustainably

Lessons learned from Project Natick also are informing Microsoft’s datacenter sustainability strategy around energy, waste and water, said Ben Cutler, a project manager in Microsoft’s Special Projects research group who leads Project Natick.

What’s more, he added, the proven reliability of underwater datacenters has prompted discussions with a Microsoft team in Azure that’s looking to serve customers who need to deploy and operate tactical and critical datacenters anywhere in the world.

  • Phase 1, Microsoft confirmed that it can successfully deploy and operate datacenter equipment in an undersea environment. Challenges it encountered for the prototype was how to tackle cooling large scale electronics and withstanding the effects of biofouling.
  • In Phase 2, Microsoft confirmed that we can economically manufacture full scale undersea datacenter modules and deploy them in under 90 days from decision to power on.
  • With the retrieval and preliminary analysis of the phase 2 vessel, Microsoft now confirmed that not only can it successfully deploy, operate, and scale an undersea datacenter, but also that this more sustainable approach actually improves the performance and reliability of the datacenter when compared to land.
  • Project Natick had 1/8th the failure rate of land datacenters. Not only is a greener future possible, but it is economically practical.