'Project Natick' Dries Up: Microsoft Shutters Underwater Datacenter

Microsoft has shelved its experimental underwater datacenter despite "promising findings."

Project Natick, which first launched in 2015 as a Microsoft Research venture, is officially dead in the water, reported Data Centre Dynamics last week, citing a statement from Microsoft's Cloud Operations and Innovation chief Noelle Walsh.

"I'm not building subsea data centers anywhere in the world," Walsh told the publication, adding, "We learned a lot about operations below sea level and vibration and impacts on the server. So we'll apply those learnings to other cases."

Project Natick was Microsoft's effort to "determine the feasibility of subsea datacenters powered by offshore renewable energy." To do so, Microsoft enclosed a cloud-scale datacenter inside a 38,000-pound container and dunked it in the Pacific Ocean, near the California coast. The datacenter was designed to be easily provisioned, low-cost and environmentally sustainable, with a lifespan of five years.

After the initial pilot, Project Natick reached what Microsoft called "Phase 2" in 2018. This time, the company subjected the datacenter to harsher conditions, submerging it under the choppy waters off the coast of Scotland. The Phase 2 datacenter was several orders of magnitude more powerful than Phase 1, the equivalent of several thousand PCs.

Microsoft retrieved the Phase 2 datacenter in 2020, deeming it a success: After two years of zero human intervention, the datacenter experienced only "a handful" of failed servers and cables. At the time, the results suggested to Microsoft that servers in underwater datacenters could be up to eight times more reliable than non-submerged servers.

After Phase 2, however, Microsoft's Project Natick updates dried up. Based on Walsh's statement, it may now only exist as a launching pad for other Microsoft Research projects around datacenter sustainability -- for instance, liquid-based datacenter cooling solutions.

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editorial director of Converge360.


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