Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Redmond, WA, United States (4E) – Microsoft last week deployed an underwater data center on the seafloor near Scotland’s Northern Isles as part of a pilot project aimed at providing quickly deployable, unmanned data center units to coastal regions.
The deployment is part of Microsoft’s Project Natick, and is the first long-term test to see if an unmanned, submerged data center can be viable. The 12 meter-long data center prototype contains 12 racks and 864 servers, along with the infrastructure for the cooling system.
The project team assembled and tested the prototype in France; shipped it to Scotland; lowered it onto the ocean floor some 36 meters below the surface and connected a cable consisting of fiber optics and power. Powering this submerged data center is the European Marine Energy Center that relies on tidal turbines and wave energy converters to generate electricity from sea movement.
Microsoft said among the main goals of the project is to provide rapidly deployable internet solutions for coastal cities and to do so in a sustainable way. Once on the seafloor, the pods use the low water temperature around them for cooling, overcoming one of the problems of intense heat generation that plagues traditional data centers operated on land.
The rest of the pod’s energy needs are met by renewable energy sources and delivered by a cable from the Orkney Island grid. The data center requires “just under a quarter of a megawatt of power” when operating at full capacity.
Project Natick began in 2015 with the deployment of a prototype unit off the Pacific coast of the United States. The Scotland project represents Phase Two of Project Natick.
Microsoft said it will spend the next 12 months monitoring the performance of the data center; keeping an eye on metrics like power consumption, internal humidity and temperature. Project Natick will see data center pods deployed to the ocean floor at selected locations worldwide.
Microsoft will eventually deploy pre-packaged module data centers everywhere in the world, including “the roughest patches of sea.” Microsoft says they could be “ordered to size, rapidly deployed and left to operate lights out on the seafloor for years.”
It plans to deploy these submerged pods near coastal cities around 120 miles off the coast. This will help artificial intelligence-driven technologies thrive in coastal communities and extend out to land-based data centers that are typically located inland to avoid floods, hurricanes, and other troublesome weather.
Microsoft says its underwater data centers are built to last up to 20 years, but have an anticipated real lifespan of five years.
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