Microsoft working on building self-sufficient underwater datacenters

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Microsoft is building datacenters. Nothing quite remarkable about that, except the company is leveraging technology from submarines to develop self-sufficient underwater datacenters. An experimental, shipping-container-size prototype is already processing workloads on the seafloor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands, says Microsoft.

The deployment of the Northern Isles datacenter at the European Marine Energy Centre is part of Microsoft’s Project Natick, which Microsoft says is a research effort to investigate manufacturing and operating environmentally sustainable, prepackaged datacenter units that can be left to operate lights out on the seafloor for years.

More than half of the world’s population lives within about 120 miles of the coast. By putting datacenters in bodies of water near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel to reach coastal communities, says Microsoft.

Project Natick’s 40-foot long Northern Isles datacenter is loaded with 12 racks containing a total of 864 servers and associated cooling system infrastructure. The datacenter was assembled and tested in France and shipped on a flatbed truck to Scotland where it was attached to a ballast-filled triangular base for deployment on the seabed.

The most complex task of the day was the foot-by-foot lowering of the datacenter and cable 117 feet to the rock slab seafloor, says Microsoft. The marine crew used 10 winches, a crane, a gantry barge and a remotely operated vehicle that accompanied the datacenter on its journey.

Watch a video of the datacenter here:

[Images/video courtesy: Microsoft]