Are Underwater Data Centers the Way of the Future?

underwater data centerToday, many new data centers are being built near large bodies of water. Being close to the water makes it much easier and more affordable to run cooling systems. Some incorporate green energy options by harnessing the power of  tides to generate some, or all, of the necessary electricity. Microsoft, however, is looking to take this a step further.

Project Natick is experimenting with a data center that is entirely underwater. The idea is to be able to use the motion of the water around the data center for a constant source of energy. Cooling will be much easier thanks to immediate access of the water.

Why Underwater Facilities

Microsoft notes that more than 50% of the world’s population lives near water.  Building underwater data centers will offer companies some very notable advantages including:

  • Energy Generation
  • Located Close to Large Population Centers
  • No Need to Buy Expensive Land
  • Easier to Cool
  • Natural Protection from Common Hazards
  • Obvious Physical Security Advantages

Of course, building a data center underwater will be difficult. There will be a variety of unique obstacles, but Microsoft has already been working on those issues. “The vision of operating containerized data centers offshore near major population centers anticipates a highly interactive future requiring data resources located close to users.”

Phase One is Already Live

Phase one is a fairly small data center that is approximately the size of a shipping container commonly seen on trucks or trains. It is located in the European Marine Energy Centre, Scotland, UK and is operating 12 racks of servers (864 standard Microsoft data center servers). That includes 27.6 petabytes of disk space!

This particular ‘data center’ is designed to be able to run for up to 5 years without any scheduled maintenance (obviously software updates and things like that will take place). This means the data centers could be largely unmanned, or only have humans within them when specific activity needs to take place.

Deploying a data center this size takes less than 90 days from building it out in a factory to shipping it to the desired location, and finally bringing it online.

Microsoft is using artificial intelligence to monitor the servers and other equipment in real time. They are also using it to gather extensive data to see how the underwater environment will impact server longevity and other factors.

Microsoft said phase two is in progress, and is meant to prove a larger scale facility is possible. They are developing a full scale prototype subsea data center, which will have a modular design to make growth easier. Phase two is also going to look closely at the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of a facility, which will be an important factor in determining if these types of facilities are viable on a large scale.

Yes – It Has Underwater Cameras

Microsoft knew that the environment surrounding the data centers was going to be one of the most interesting aspects of the facility. With this in mind, they installed two external cameras that live stream for people to watch. There is a lot of marine wildlife swimming by for people to enjoy, which is just one more thing that really helps to set this facility apart from anything else in the world.

Unfortunately, as of the time of this writing, the two cameras have been biofouled, which simply means microorganisms have grown over the camera and obstructed its view. Microsoft will clean the cameras at some point and continue the live stream. For now, however, they are streaming recorded video from September, 2018 for viewers to enjoy. You can watch the video, and learn more about this innovative data center project, HERE.