Data centers consume a lot of energy and produce a lot of heat from all those servers running 24/7. Energy consumption costs can be cut by using ever more efficient hardware, but also by tapping into renewable energy sources. Heat is a more difficult problem, though. Microsoft’s latest idea to deal with it is by placing a data center on the sea floor near Orkney.
As the BBC reports, this experimental data center is called Project Natick and takes the form of a sealed cylinder packed full of 12 racks of servers. Because it’s sealed, Microsoft sucked all the oxygen and water vapor out of the atmosphere inside, therefore reducing the chances of corrosion. A power and data link is maintained using an undersea cable hooked up to the cylinder and feeding back to Orkney.
Microsoft has been working on a subsea data center for a few years now. Orkney is actually Phase 2 of the project, with Phase 1 taking place off the coast of California back in 2016.
Putting a data center under the sea means it can’t be physically accessed once up and running. If one of the servers breaks, it stays broken, but that potential problem may be offset by the cost savings when it comes to cooling. As the data center is surrounded by cold water, Microsoft is confident that the sea will act as a giant heatsink. Add in to that renewable energy supplied from Orkney and you have a very green data center.
The cylinder containing the servers is 12.2 meters long and 2.8 meters in diameter. It consumes 240 KW of power supplied from Orkney using on-shore wind and solar, as well as off-shore tide and wave power sources. Inside are 12 racks containing 864 standard Microsoft data center servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage. That’s enough to store five million movies. The internal operating environment is one atmosphere pressure and dry nitrogen, and Microsoft believes it should operate for up to five years.
Producing and deploying a subsea data center takes Microsoft about 90 days. Consider that compared to the many months or even years it takes to approve and develop an on-land data center and you can see why this is attractive. Combined with the cost savings from dealing with heat naturally and the security offered by being on the sea floor, you end up with what could be the obvious next step for data centers.