Data Centers Under Water…Literally


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While SpaceX is busy launching cell towers in space, Microsoft is busy testing data centers under the ocean. The Underwater Data Center was submerged off the coast of the Orkey Islands along the shores of Scotland in 2018. Microsoft’s underwater Northern Isles data center is once again above water, reports Gizmodo, and scientists are studying how it has fared after two years at the bottom of the briny sea. 

In examining the container, encrusted with sea life, but secure, Microsoft expressed its satisfaction that speculation about the success of underwater servers has been vindicated. Microsoft Special Projects researcher, Spencer Fowers, went so far as to say that the results left Microsoft “pretty impressed.” The special container housed 864 servers storing 27.6 petabytes of data protected by an atmosphere of inert gas. One of the main goals of the project was to compare conditions of servers deposited underwater versus those located on land.  

Ben Cutler, the leader of Project Natick, noted that the Northern Isles servers experienced failure rates that were much less disruptive than those taking place in a traditional data center. He added that the Underwater Data Center ran “really well” on wind and solar powered energy grid that supports the region. The unit survived 60-foot waves and nine mile per hour currents with less trauma than land-based systems typically endure as they are exposed to corrosive weather, oxidation, and fluctuating temperatures. 

Since the project’s inception, researchers have questioned the impact on sea life, the problems associated with onsite repairs, and the feasibility of maintaining facilities underwater. “We are now at the point of trying to harness what we have done as opposed to feeling the need to go and prove out some more,” stated Cutler. “We have done what we need to do. Natick is a key building block for the company to use if it is appropriate.” 

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