Microsoft tests underwater data center off Scotland coast

Microsoft submerged one of its data centers in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday as part of an effort to understand how the machines work on the sea floor.

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Microsoft said the first phase of Project Natick began more than two years ago when it operated a vessel on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The second phase will test the data center in the waters off Scotland.

“Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud data center solutions that offer less resource-intensive options, rapid provisioning, lower costs, and high agility in meeting customer needs,” Microsoft said.

One of the main purposes of putting a data center underwater is to lower the cost of cooling the servers. Scotland’s Orkney Island was chosen as the location because of its cooler sea temperatures.

The submerged data center includes 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage — or nearly 28 million gigabytes. It will remain on the sea bed for five years.

Tidal turbines and wave energy converters will help power the data center, which is as powerful as several thousand high-end consumer PCs.

Microsoft said the most challenging task was lowering the data center and cable 117 feet to the rock slab floor — an effort that took 10 winches, a crane, a gantry barge and a remotely operated vehicle.

“The most joyful moment of the day was when the datacenter finally slipped beneath the surface on its slow, carefully scripted journey,” project manager Ben Cutler said.

Microsoft executive Cindy Rose said she hopes the work will be replicated at other data centers in the future.

“Almost half of the world’s population lives near large bodies of water,” Rose said. “Having data centers closer to billions of people using the Internet will ensure faster and smoother web browsing, video streaming and gaming, while businesses can enjoy AI-driven technologies.”

By Sara Shayanian