Computers

Microsoft retrieves its experimental underwater data center

Microsoft retrieves its experi...
Microsoft has hauled up its experimental underwater data center
Microsoft has hauled up its experimental underwater data center
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Microsoft has hauled up its experimental underwater data center
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Microsoft has hauled up its experimental underwater data center
Microsoft's Project Natick experimental underwater data center contains 864 servers
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Microsoft's Project Natick experimental underwater data center contains 864 servers
Microsoft's Project Natick experimental underwater data center is power washed soon after its retrieval
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Microsoft's Project Natick experimental underwater data center is power washed soon after its retrieval
Once back on dry land, the Microsoft's experimental underwater data center is cracked open to begin examining data
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Once back on dry land, the Microsoft's experimental underwater data center is cracked open to begin examining data
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Data centers are fast becoming one of the most power-hungry industries, since they require such heavy-duty cooling and maintenance. Microsoft has now finished a two-year test of an unconventional solution – dropping a data center to the bottom of the sea – and found that it was more reliable than a similar land-based facility.

This milestone marks the end of Phase 2 of Project Natick, Microsoft’s long-running experiment with ocean-cooled data centers. The first phase took place over three months in 2015 off the Californian coast, and it was followed in early 2018 by a larger test facility dunked into the sea near the Orkney Islands of Scotland.

And now, after two years on the sea floor, this second phase facility has been hauled back to the surface, cleaned and examined. The 40-ft (12-m)-long container had been sitting 117 ft (36 m) below the waves, packing 12 server racks carrying 864 servers. The inside was deprived of oxygen and instead filled with dry nitrogen, and the servers were cooled by seawater pumped through radiators behind the racks and back out into the sea.

The idea was that a cool, stable environment like this would remove many of the disturbances faced by land-based data centers, including humidity, fluctuating temperatures, oxygen corrosion, and bumps by people wandering around the facility. In theory, the underwater servers should last longer than their landlubber counterparts.

Microsoft's Project Natick experimental underwater data center is power washed soon after its retrieval
Microsoft's Project Natick experimental underwater data center is power washed soon after its retrieval

And sure enough, the hypothesis held true. The team found that the failure rate of the servers from the sea was only one eighth that of a similar land-based facility. Air samples were taken before it was opened, so it can be determined how gases normally released from the equipment may affect the operating environment. The few failed servers and cables were packaged up and sent back to Microsoft HQ to determine cause of death.

The team says that the project appears to have successfully demonstrated that the concept is logistically, environmentally and economically viable. The lessons learned here will inform future data center designs, and soon networks of these underwater data centers could be powering cloud-based services such as Microsoft’s own Azure.

The team discusses the project in the video below.

Microsoft reveals findings from Project Natick, its experimental undersea datacenter

Source: Microsoft

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4 comments
paul314
How long these days before the servers in a sealed capsule are too slow relative to the new stuff to be economical to run?
Vor&Nach
Another way to efficiently heat up the oceans, not that we are not doing it at a fast rate but now we are amp-ing it up. When will all the tech types start thinking about the other side of the coin (the bad consequences of their actions/designs, they have not done it up to now). This is just another example of that ignorance & arrogance.
BlueOak
@paul314, server technology, while always developing, is pretty mature. It appears the point Microsoft is making with these tests is the for the lifecycle of the servers, whatever it is, the undersea server method is economically viable. A one-eighth failure rate vs traditional land-based server rooms is indeed impressive.

Certainly, now that they have removed an installation, they can determine what the shutdown costs are, to get a total life cycle cost.
BlueOak
@Vor&Nach, care to share the calculations on how these server farms would materially impact ocean temperatures? Silly. Trivial impact. Do you also rail at the heat introduced by land based server installations, amplified by the HVAC units themselves? And how about all the fossil fuels burned to cool land based servers? Perspective, please.

All the while, reading and commenting on a website that uses servers.