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Data Centers: Microsoft’s Underwater Project


data center

As organizations gather and store more data, and as facility managers rely more on key pieces of this data to make important decisions, data centers have becoming crucial components within facilities.

To address the expanding need, especially in certain key areas of the country, Microsoft is leveraging technology from submarines and working with marine energy companies to develop self-sufficient underwater data centers that can deliver quick cloud services to coastal cities. An experimental, shipping-container-size prototype is processing workloads on the seafloor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands, the company announced in a press release.

The deployment of the Northern Isles datacenter at the European Marine Energy Centre marks a milestone in Project Natick, a years-long research effort to investigate manufacturing and operating environmentally sustainable, prepackaged data center units that can be ordered to size, rapidly deployed and left to operate on the seafloor for years.

“That is kind of a crazy set of demands to make,” said Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft AI and Research, who leads the New Experiences and Technologies, or NExT, group. “Natick is trying to get there.”

The Project Natick data center has 12 racks containing 864 servers and associated cooling system infrastructure. The submerging part of the project was handled by Naval Group, a 400-year old French company. Using a heat-exchange process mainly used for cooling submarines, Naval Group shipped the data center to Scotland on a flatbed truck. In the water, the data center is partially submerged and held in place with 10 winches and cranes.

While being deployed, a remotely operated vehicle went down 117 feet to the seafloor and grabbed hold of a waiting cable containing fiber optic and power wiring. Once grabbed and plugged in, the data center came to life, according to Popular Mechanics.

More than one-half of the world’s population lives within about 120 miles of a coast. By putting data centers in bodies of water near coastal cities, data would have a shorter distance to travel, leading to faster and smoother web surfing, video streaming and game playing, as well as authentic experiences for AI-driven technologies.

This Quick Read was submitted by Ryan Berlin, managing editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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