Microsoft Declares Its Underwater Data Center Test Was A Success

from ars technica

Microsoft retrieved a 40-foot-long, 12-rack, self-contained underwater data center from its seafloor home offshore from the Orkney Islands earlier this summer.

The retrieval of the Northern Isles began the final phase of Microsoft’s Project Natick research initiative, exploring the concept of deploying sealed server pods just offshore major population centers as a replacement for traditional onshore data centers.

Project Natick has been underway for several years; we covered the two-month trial deployment of Leona Philpot, the company’s first underwater server pod, in 2016, and the deployment of the newly retrieved Orkney Isles pod in 2018.

The potential disadvantage of sealed underwater “data centers” is obvious—they must be extremely reliable, since they can’t be serviced on a regular basis. There is a somewhat less intuitive, counterbalancing advantage, of course—they don’t have any pesky humans wandering around inside them, potentially dislodging cables, unplugging things, or otherwise injecting chaos.

More here.

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One Comment

  1. Over 8 million data centers around the world are processing our entire online lives thousands of times a second. With this, our reliance on cloud based services has skyrocketed due to the effects of COVID 19 (forcing everyone online). This also means a push for more energy and efficient data centers I remember hearing about this new fangled underwater datacenter because it was a unique and reliable way to help store databases and increase energy sustainability. To start, this massive 40 foot long 12 rack self contained underwater data storing module has the job of simply storing data. Now what makes this a unique and different way of storing data is the environment it is in, such as temperature. Researchers at Microsoft say that having a sealed container on the ocean. Floor with a low humidity nitrogen environment and cold, stable temperatures would better protect the servers and increase reliability. It almost works as how a computer does, the cooler it is the faster and better performance it will present. The shipping container-sized datacenter capsule was deployed in the spring of 2018 and went over 117 feet below sea level in the Orkney Islands. The islands are located just off of the coast of Scotland and more recently in the summer of 2020, the capsule was retrieved covered in sand and moss. Another reason for keeping a datacenter like this underwater is because it is actually more safe than being on land. Mike Shepperd, a senior research and development engineer on the Microsoft Research team, states that “Once you are down 20 to 30 meters into the water, you are out of the weather. You could have a hurricane raging above you, and an underwater datacenter will be none the wiser”.
    This concept makes sense because it lessens the possibility of the datacenter being destroyed in a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado. I think it is very interesting that this is now a new and unique way to safely store data without taking up room, but what I am interested in is as to how people will access the datacenter to make routine maintenance checkups. Given that the capsule is as big as a shipping container, and is bolted shut to avoid water damage and flooding, you would think that check-ups would be a pain in the behind. On top of that, if people need to access this data in an emergency, it makes it ten times harder to retrieve given that it is at the bottom of the ocean. Another concern of mine would be wouldn’t it just be easier to build the capsule near water and have it circulate in or around the datacenter? I mean it would work like a water cooled computer wouldn’t it? Overall with its pros and cons, I think it is a great and efficient idea, as long as Microsoft holds accountability and takes the necessary precautions in attempts to minimize the environmental impact that this will have on the floors of the ocean, considering this is most likely going to be the future of storing data. A very sensible move from Microsoft I would say.

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