Microsoft just put another data center underwater

Microsoft Project Natick

Microsoft has sunk a data centre designed by naval engineers off the coast of Orkney.

Spencer Fowers of Microsoft's special projects research group seals a logo onto Project Natick's Northern Isles datacenter in preparation for deployment.

The company has already experimented with one such data centre back in 2016 with a 30-foot Natick pod situated near the coast of California to test the feasibility of the project.

Microsoft was also quick to highlight that much of the world's population lives within 120 miles of a coast, and as populations continue to increase, demand for fast web surfing and video streaming will rise exponentially.

With a total of 27.6 petabytes of disk storage, the data centre has enough space for about five million full length movies.

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By plunging data centres in bodies of water near coastal cities, data would have short distances to travel to reach coastal communities. Project Natick is the name of the test pilot that uses a small data center, packed into a shipping container and dropped to the bottom of the sea.

The island itself runs exclusively on renewable power generated by its own wind turbines and residential solar panels, and is also a sizeable testbed for tidal energy generation. And because oceans are uniformly cool below a certain depth, keeping the machines under the sea would cut down the cooling costs that make up a large chunk of the operating budget of data centers.

This particular data center is a fraction of the size of the modern data centers that power cloud computing operations like Microsoft Azure, but its portability and reliance on cold ocean water to keep the systems humming along make it very interesting. "It's our belief that this type of data center could lead to reduced costs, and simpler structures that incorporate fewer materials, requiring less maintenance and electricity", a Microsoft spokesperson said.

Microsoft said that while the first Project Natick test was to see if it was possible to operate an undersea data center, the second test is meant to learn if the "concept is logistically, environmentally and economically practical".

Microsoft is hoping to address this issue from a number of different angles with the first-ever underwater data center.

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