Microsoft is experimenting to see if it is feasible to store cloud Data Centres under water. If successful, the project – code-named Natick – could have a number of benefits over conventional land-based Data Centres, including a decrease in pollution and quicker saving and retrieval speeds when accessing the Cloud.
The software giant set out to try and accomplish the impossible and they gave themselves a year to succeed, and that’s exactly what they did. The initial trial involved operating one of these underwater vessels/Data Centres whilst performing a number of tests and experiments to see if and how the performance of the vessel affected its surroundings. The vessel, dubbed Leona Philpot after a famous Xbox Videogame character, was the first to ever attempt a project of this magnitude.
With an ever growing global population, and more of us using the cloud to store our personal data, new Data Centres will continue to be in demand. To put it into some perspective, global Data Centres consume approximately 3% of world’s power, a considerably large chunk in the grand scheme of things. Usually, these huge server farms are land-based and located in remote locations, such as the Nevada Desert in the US. With continued growth, though, the current standard is far from sustainable.
Enter Project Natick, Microsoft has put together a team of experts who believe that underwater Data Centres could solve many issues and combat two major dilemmas that scourge the data world today, the balance between distance from population and connection speeds, and the energy required for the cooling systems.
While lack of land is an major issue that faces an ever-advancing civilisation, using remote locations can have a significant effect on internet speeds as well as data retrieval. According to recent research conducted by Microsoft, half of the world’s population lives on or near the coastal areas of our planet. This means that the retrieval rate could be heightened considerably if the submersible Data Centres were stationed near major populations or cities.
There is also an environmental benefit behind the trial of Natick as each Data Centre requires a sophisticated cooling device so as to keep each unit stabilised. Recently, companies such as Facebook have been working on advanced techniques for cooling involving the coastal air in countries such as Ireland to reduce the temperature of their servers and reduce the carbon pollution created, Microsoft have a very different plan.
If the project goes ahead, Data Centres would no longer need to be cooled externally as the sea water would maintain an achievable temperature for the devices. This would considerably cut down on the overall energy usage, making for a greener and more sustainable environmental impact.
Microsoft’s first underwater Data Centre operated off the coast of California between August and November of 2015. The goal of the project was to determine how the environment affected the craft as well as how it operated underwater. Encased in Steel, the Leona Philpot had an array of sensors encircling the device protecting it from the outside elements and also allowing it to measure any disturbances in its environment.
The Project is part of Microsoft’s commitment to act on recommendations from Greenpeace, as well as other environmental groups, asking them to “clean up their act” and set a global example. The company believes this is a perfect way to kick-start a greener company and industry.
Reducing carbon pollution by utilising renewable energies has become a larger priority for large multinational companies such as Microsoft for a couple of years now and that trend is likely to continue into 2016.
Microsoft believes that Project Natick is the perfect solution to the above mentioned issues as well as pushing them towards a brighter and greener future.