Tech

Microsoft sinks data centre into Scottish sea

Microsoft sinks data centre into Scottish sea

If the idea ever reaches commercial scale, the underwater data centers will probably be powered by whatever energy source is available locally.

Putting data centers underwater could potentially cut back on maintenance costs as well, particularly when it comes to keeping those data centers cool.

For now, Microsoft has set up experimental data center which is fitted under a shipping container-size prototype.

Microsoft hopes to leave the data centre in place for five years without having to intervene - once submerged, it's impossible for engineers to gain access to the facility.

Microsoft's Project Natick team will monitor and record the performance of the datacentre over the next 12 months. The firm hopes to sink groups of five cylinders together to create a data center in under 90 days-way less time than it would take to build on land with the cooling systems required there.

"Future Natick research will explore directly powering a Natick datacenter by a co-located ocean-based green power system, such as offshore wind or tide, with no grid connection", reads an entry on the Microsoft website.

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At the deployment site, a remotely operated vehicle retrieved a cable containing the fibre optic and power wiring from the seafloor and brought it to the surface where it was checked and attached to the data center before switching it on.

The data centre is also very small compared to the giant warehouses used to store the world's information. "Signals travel around 200 km/millisecond across the Internet, so if you are 200 km away one round trip to the datacenter takes about 2 milliseconds but if you are 4000 km away each round trip takes 40 milliseconds".

The data center is placed in a cylinder that was made by shipbuilder Naval. In 2011, Microsoft experimented with the 'data furnace' concept, which aims to heat homes using the heat generated by servers.

More than half the world's population lives less than 200 kilometres from the coast, Microsoft noted.

Still, the economic and environmental perks of subsea data centers could someday encourage companies to implement the technology on a large scale.