Environmentally-friendly units could give coastal communities faster access to the internet
Microsoft is testing an underwater datacentre in a bid to accommodate the growth in demand for cloud computing infrastructures near highly populated areas.
Placing datacentres in bodies of water near coastal cities reduces the distance that data has to travel to reach coastal communities. This could provide faster internet access for many consumers, since over half of the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the coast.
The shipping-container-size prototype is currently processing data on the seafloor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands in the UK. The deployment marks a milestone in Project Natick, Microsoft’s year-long research effort to investigate pre-packaged datacentres that can be deployed at sea.
Project Natick’s 40-foot long Northern Isles datacentre was loaded with 12 racks containing 864 servers and a cooling system infrastructure. The datacentre was assembled and tested in France and shipped on a flatbed truck to Scotland before being attached to a ballast-filled triangular base for deployment on the seabed.
“The most joyful moment of the day was when the datacentre finally slipped beneath the surface on its slow, carefully scripted journey,” said Ben Cutler, a project manager in the Project Natick team.
The underwater datacentre concept was originally presented in a white paper prepared for the Microsoft ThinkWeek event which aims to encourage employees to share their solution ideas. Just 12 months after launching Project Natick in July 2014, the team had deployed a lab-built proof-of-concept prototype in California.
The proof-of-concept vessel operated for 105 days and the Project Natick team pushed ahead to design, manufacture and test the full-scale module deployed in Scotland.
The Project Natick team will spend the next year monitoring and recording the performance of the datacentre, observing power consumption and internal humidity levels.