Microsoft Underwater Data Center Project
Let’s stars with what data centres are and why we need them. Data center is a group of networked computer servers connected with internet, typically used by organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data. Some people say that data is the important asset of out time and it has to be located somewhere. To keep this precious asset safe, we have to assure that computers has the best possible conditions to exist.
But what conditions computers like. Computers do not enjoy temperature fluctuations. So changes between day and night or summer and winter may cause components of a computer to fail. Humidity or even oxygen in the air are also bad for these fragile devices which may cause corrosion of components.
Providing best possible conditions is not easy but Microsoft has a project which may be an answer. Project Natick is a research project with ambitious goal of testing undersea Data Base solution.
A research project to determine the feasibility of subsea datacenters powered by offshore renewable energy Project Natick seeks to understand the benefits and difficulties in deploying subsea datacenters worldwide.https://natick.research.microsoft.com
The project started in 2015 with a goal of reducing energy consumption of data centres. Phase One was a proof of concept to check if they can create completely waterproof capsule which will hold on underwater for 105 days. The Phase One showed that it is possible to create completely water-tight server capsules. It also confirmed that this environment is better for computers.
The second phase was keeping capsule for longer period of time (24 months) underwater. Back in 2018, Microsoft sunk a 12 meter long container to the bottom of the Scottish sea. Keeping capsule undersea is providing great insolation from temperature fluctuations. In fact water has about 1000x the heat capacity of air. Capsule is also filled with 1 atmosphere pressure, dry nitrogen which is less corrosive than oxygen.
Microsoft datacenter servers with FPGA acceleration and 27.6 petabytes of disk. This Natick datacenter is as powerful as several thousand high end consumer PCs and has enough storage for about 5 million movies.https://natick.research.microsoft.com
So far tests of f resulted in 8 times better failure rate for server computers in the capsule in comparison to the same exact components used in on land data center. Microsoft claims that it need less than 90 days from factory to operation which sounds like quite long production time. But probably it will be better with time.
But what about environmental impact of keeping data underwater? Right now Project Natick test is powered by 100% locally produced renewable electricity from on-shore wind and solar, off-shore tide and wave. Using only renewable energy is in fact the goal for Microsoft. Other important thing is impact on sealife. Microsoft claims that “sealife enjoys and takes advantage of a data center”. I have to also mention that less failure of components results with less electronic waste at the end.
I think underwater Data Centers may be a standard in the field of data storage and data processing. It is easier and cheaper to produce such a capsule than a whole building. It’s also harder to access which will be better from the security perspective. I love fact that is has that much improvement in preventing failure of components. Moreover it may be located close to huge agglomerations. According to Microsoft 50% of worlds population lives up to 120 miles from the coast so it would be easier for data to transfer. I can not wait to see full results of Project Natick and how it will change Data Storage for ever.