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Microsoft’s underwater data centre resurfaces

In 2018, Microsoft’s Project Natick team stored the first data centre approximately 35m underwater near the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

After monitoring the server for two years, the team recently retrieved the data centre.

The concept of storing data centres under water was first conceived by Microsoft during ThinkWeek in 2014. According to this article, it was a Microsoft employee’s experience serving on submarines that got the ball rolling on the idea.

It seemed like a feasible idea – the consistent subsurface temperatures would create an ideal environment for the servers and lower cooling costs. As a large portion of the world’s population lives near the ocean, it would also allow for faster internet and streaming services.

Project Natick did a test run in 2015 when they deployed a 17,236.51kg container into the Pacific Ocean successfully, which even withstood a small tsunami tidal wave.

The 2018 deployment was the first long-term test. The team is analysing the air quality and hardware of the data centre, which was filled with dry nitrogen to create a dry environment.

Apart from a small amount of failed servers and related cables, the researchers have estimated that the servers kept underwater are eight times more reliable than servers stored on land.

This is partly because there are less variables to interfere with the different components in the data centre, such as temperature fluctuations or corrosion from oxygen and humidity.

Microsoft is now exploring the possibility of building larger-scale versions of the trialled data centres. The tech giant is considering future plans of storing the full suite of Microsoft Azure cloud services underwater.

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