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After spending two years in the deep waters of the North Sea, Microsoft’s subsea data center was retrieved to assess the feasibility of underwater data centers, powered by offshore renewable energy.

The data center vessel was pulled out of the seafloor off Scotland’s Orkney Islands last July, and Microsoft researchers are currently assessing how it has performed, and what they can learn from it about energy efficiency, the BBC wrote.

The unusual research project, called Project Natick, aims to explore the benefits and difficulties in deploying subsea data centers worldwide.

While still reviewing the data, Microsoft researchers were already able to draw in early conclusions; underwater datacenters are reliable, practical and use energy sustainably.

The cylinder packed with servers had a lower failure rate than a conventional data center.

“Our failure rate in the water is one-eighth of what we see on land,” says Ben Cutler, who has led Project Natick.

subseaWhen the container was hauled off the seabed after being placed there in May 2018, just eight out of the 855 servers on board had failed, which compares very well with a conventional data center.

The team says that the greater reliability may be connected to the absence of humans on board, and that nitrogen rather than oxygen was pumped into the capsule.

Other lessons learned from Project Natick, according to Microsoft, is how to make datacenters use energy more sustainably.

The Project Natick team selected the Orkney Islands for the Northern Isles deployment in part because the grid there is supplied 100% by wind and solar as well as experimental green energy technologies under development at the European Marine Energy Centre.

“We have been able to run really well on what most land-based datacenters consider an unreliable grid,” said Spencer Fowers, a principal member of technical staff for Microsoft’s Special Projects research group.

“We are hopeful that we can look at our findings and say maybe we don’t need to have quite as much infrastructure focused on power and reliability,” he added.

Other sustainability-related benefits may include eliminating the need to use replacement parts. In addition, Project Natick has shown that datacenters can be operated and kept cool without tapping freshwater resources that are vital to people, agriculture and wildlife, Cutler noted.

This is Microsoft’s second data center vessel. The first was deployed in California on the seafloor of the Pacific coast. It was underwater from August to November 2016.


Microsoft’s underwater data centre resurfaces after two years

Microsoft finds underwater datacenters are reliable, practical and use energy sustainably

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