Microsoft sinks data centre off Orkney

The system uses seawater to cool the servers saving on energy costs

The system uses seawater to cool the servers saving on energy costsFRANCK BETERMIN

Tech giant Microsoft has sunk a data centre in the sea off Orkney to look at whether it can improve energy efficiency.

According to Microsoft, the Orkney project marks the start of the second phase of Project Natick, with the first phase serving to prove the underwater datacentre concept had legs.

"We know if we can put something in here and it survives, we are good for just about any place we want to go", said Microsoft's special projects researcher, Ben Cutler, in the blog post.

The hope is that it won't need as much fixing as a traditional data centre anyway, as the server submarine they're sinking will have most of the oxygen and moisture taken out of its atmosphere, hopefully reducing corrosion.

The Northern Isles data center consists of a 40-foot (12.2 metre) long white cylinder containing 864 servers - enough to store five million movies - and can lie on the seabed for up to five years. If by submerging a data center in the sea it keeps them cooler than having them in a land-based warehouse, it means less energy will be required to keep the data centers cool, reducing their ecological impact. Microsoft says almost half the world's population lives within 150 km (120 miles) of the ocean.

The Orkney islands happen to also generate more than 100% of their energy from wind, solar, and tidal sources.

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The world's oceans at depth are consistently cold, offering ready and free access to cooling, which is one of the biggest costs for land-based datacenters. It is also far quicker to deploy a data center offshore than build on land.

Microsoft submerged one of its data centers in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday as part of an effort to understand how the machines work on the sea floor.

There's still a lot of research that needs to be done to make sure these designs are environmentally sustainable and reliable, and Microsoft will closely monitor the performance and environmental impact of this data center over the next year.

Not only does it not require any additional energy to cool the center, the power it does draw is not contributing to climate change.

"Like any new auto, we kick the tires and run the engine in different speeds to make sure everything works well", said Spencer Flowers, who is a senior member of technical staff for Microsoft's special projects.

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