Microsoft has retrieved an underwater data centre from Scottish waters after two years of providing cloud services from the bottom of the ocean. The 40-foot cylinder, which descended into waters off the coast of Orkney in spring 2018, is powered by tidal turbines and wave energy converters. Marine specialists took just a day to retrieve the data centre, which was coated in algae, barnacles and sea anemones from the seafloor after being deployed 117 feet deep – without affecting its operations. Throughout its test period, 'Project Natick', as it's known by the US firm, had a lower failure rate than a conventional data centres and reduced energy consumption. The on-board servers – the physical electronic equipment that process data storage – were protected from the surrounding water, supporting customers of its Azure cloud services.
And now, underneath Scotland's cold, turbulent waters, a data center hums away, providing the Scottish isles' coastal communities with high speed cloud computing capabilities and internet connectivity. SEE ALSO: Here's How Your Phone's Internet Works On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it had deployed the second phase of Project Natick: a "moonshot" research project to test the viability of underwater datacenters. It placed the datacenter off the coast of the Orkney Islands, which are at the northernmost tip of Scotland. Microsoft will monitor the device for the next 12 months to see how what was an idea on paper just four years ago functions in the real world. "We know if we can put something in here and it survives, we are good for just about any place we want to go," project manager Ben Cutler said in a statement.
Microsoft has dropped a 40-foot long data-center pod onto the seafloor off the coast from the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, north of Scotland. That's a fairly remote location, but Microsoft's thinking behind phase two of its data-center-in-the-sea research, Project Natick, is to bring its cloud servers closer to where people live. Since half the world's population lives within 120 miles of the coast, it thinks offshore data centers could be an efficient, low-latency way of delivering AI applications and gaming content to end users. Microsoft dropped a slightly smaller 30-foot Natick pod off the coast of California in 2016 to test whether it could run Azure services from the seabed. Microsoft designed the pod to operate without maintenance for up to five years -- about the time it would take before the servers inside would be retired anyway.
In 2014, Microsoft was convinced a sealed container on the ocean floor could provide ways to improve the overall reliability of data centres so, in 2015, it tested its first underwater data centre. After working on its design and proving its viability, the company in 2018 deployed a pod full of servers off the coast of Scotland's Orkney Islands. The Northern Isles underwater data centre was manufactured by Naval Group and its subsidiary Naval Energies. Orkney Island-based Green Marine was also involved, supporting Naval Group and Microsoft on the deployment, maintenance, monitoring, and retrieval of the data centre, which was operated by Microsoft. The data centre was deployed at the European Marine Energy Centre, which is a test site for tidal turbines and wave energy converters.
Data centres are now going under water. Tech giant Microsoft says it is leveraging technology from submarines and working with marine energy firms to develop a breed of submersible data centres that can offer cloud services to coastal cities. Microsoft said in a blog post that as part of Project Natick, it is currently testing the self-sufficient data centres via a shipping container-sized model that is currently processing workloads while sitting on the coast of Scotland's Orkney Islands. The Northern Isles data centre is 40-feet long, contains 12 racks of servers amounting to 864 units, and comes designed with its own cooling solution. "The data centre was assembled and tested in France and shipped on a flatbed truck to Scotland where it was attached to a ballast-filled triangular base for deployment on the seabed," Microsoft said in the blog post. The company said that the deployment of the Northern Isles data centre at the European Marine Energy Centre is indication that one day, such data centres can be custom-ordered in sizes and easily deployed.