Computers

Microsoft deploys underwater data center off the coast of Scotland

Microsoft deploys underwater d...
Microsoft has submerged a data center in the ocean off the coast of Scotland
Microsoft has submerged a data center in the ocean off the coast of Scotland
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The Project Natick data center being deployed
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The Project Natick data center being deployed
The Project Natick team gather on a barge just before the data center is deployed
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The Project Natick team gather on a barge just before the data center is deployed
Microsoft has submerged a data center in the ocean off the coast of Scotland
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Microsoft has submerged a data center in the ocean off the coast of Scotland
The new Project Natick data center measures 40 ft (12 m) long
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The new Project Natick data center measures 40 ft (12 m) long
Phase 2 of Project Natick involves a full-size data center, after the first smaller prototype was tested off the Californian coast
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Phase 2 of Project Natick involves a full-size data center, after the first smaller prototype was tested off the Californian coast
Microsoft partnered with a French company called Naval Group to handle the logistics and design of the marine side of the operation
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Microsoft partnered with a French company called Naval Group to handle the logistics and design of the marine side of the operation
The nearby Orkney Islands are 100 percent powered by renewable sources, such as wind turbines
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The nearby Orkney Islands are 100 percent powered by renewable sources, such as wind turbines
Ben Cutler is the project manager of Project Natick
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Ben Cutler is the project manager of Project Natick
The Project Natick data center was lowered 117 ft (36 m) to the seafloor
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The Project Natick data center was lowered 117 ft (36 m) to the seafloor
The Project Natick data center contains 12 server racks loaded with a total of 864 servers
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The Project Natick data center contains 12 server racks loaded with a total of 864 servers
The Project Natick data center is cooled using a similar system to submarines, where seawater is piped through the radiators on the backs of the server racks and then back out into the ocean
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The Project Natick data center is cooled using a similar system to submarines, where seawater is piped through the radiators on the backs of the server racks and then back out into the ocean
The Project Natick team will monitor the data center for the next 12 months, keeping watch over its performance, power consumption, sound, humidity and temperature
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The Project Natick team will monitor the data center for the next 12 months, keeping watch over its performance, power consumption, sound, humidity and temperature
The watertight, cylindrical shell was also designed by Naval Group
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The watertight, cylindrical shell was also designed by Naval Group

Water-cooling systems have long been used to keep computers from overheating, but how do you scale that up for huge data centers? According to Microsoft, you drop the data center to the bottom of the ocean. As the second phase of its Project Natick, the company has just deployed a data center in the frigid waters off Scotland's Orkney Islands.

Cooling is one of the biggest costs of running a data center, so companies are coming up with some creative ways to keep the tech nicely chilled. Google set its DeepMind AI loose on the problem, while other companies have strategically built facilities in cold locations like the Arctic circle or beneath the fjords of Norway.

With Project Natick, Microsoft has been experimenting with submerging data centers deep beneath the ocean and pumping cold seawater through to keep them cool. In 2015, Phase 1 of the project saw a 10-ft (3-m) long prototype submerged off the coast of California for 105 days, which proved the feasibility of the concept.

The Project Natick data center being deployed
The Project Natick data center being deployed

Phase 2 was designed to test if the idea was practical in a logistic, environmental and economic sense. Microsoft partnered with a French marine manufacturing company called Naval Group, which designed the watertight cylindrical shell and adapted a commonly-used submarine cooling system to work with the data center.

Known as the Northern Isles data center, the new facility sits 117 ft (36 m) below the waves, measures 40 ft (12 m) long and contains 12 server racks loaded with a total of 864 servers. To cool them, seawater is piped through the radiators on the backs of the server racks, before being released back out into the ocean.

The Project Natick data center is cooled using a similar system to submarines, where seawater is piped through the radiators on the backs of the server racks and then back out into the ocean
The Project Natick data center is cooled using a similar system to submarines, where seawater is piped through the radiators on the backs of the server racks and then back out into the ocean

The center is connected to the world through a fiber optic cable and gets most of its power from the nearby Orkney Islands. Interestingly, 100 percent of the region's energy already comes from renewable sources, thanks to wind turbines, solar panels and more experimental sources such as tidal turbines and wave energy converters.

The team says the eventual goal of Project Natick is to have these underwater data centers be completely self-sustained, powered entirely through offshore wind, wave or tidal generators. In doing so, they could essentially be submerged near any coastal city where they're needed, and supply faster internet and cloud services.

This phase of Project Natick will see the team monitoring the Northern Isles data center for the next 12 months, keeping watch over its performance, power consumption, sound, humidity and temperature. This version is designed to work continuously down there for up to five years without needing maintenance.

You can see the Project Natick data center being submerged in the video below.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft tests Project Natick, self-sustaining underwater datacenter

6 comments
kid-jensen
Why not just spray it with water? the clean type, not the ultra-corrosive stuff you find in the sea.. That way Latent heat of evaporation would improve cooling efficiency. Better still, pipe the heat off to someone that needs it!
Romel R.
How is the hardware troubleshooting process?, Do you have to disassemble the hole pipe in order to repair a server? It will be nice to have feeback...
CliffG
The whole idea is preposterous and will generate a kill zone for any sea life that happens into its thermal plume. Why does the ocean end up as the default dumping ground for waste heat? Why is something like this even allowed?
ChairmanLMAO
why do i feel like there is something more sinister going on?
Wolf0579
I foresee problems of a biological nature... the radiators will fill up w/ small sea creatures and eventually the flow of water will start getting choked off. I think it would make more sense to use fresh water as a coolant and external heat exchangers. External so they can be swapped out w/out opening the containment hull.
Wolf0579
I also am wary of the thermal impact on the ocean saline conveyor. That's already being messed with by all of the fresh, cold water coming off the Greenland glaciers. Screw with that too much and you will see climate change like you cannot imagine.... but then, again, that's already happening too, thanks to Big Oil, and the US RussiaPublican Party.