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Promising Findings from Microsoft's Underwater Datacenter Experiment

Back on dry land after spending two years submerged in the waters off the coast of Scotland, Project Natick, Microsoft's experimental underwater datacenter prototype, has been deemed a success.

First unveiled in 2016, Project Natick is Microsoft's effort to determine the feasibility of subsea datacenters powered by offshore renewable energy. It involved sinking a container-sized, sealed, metal datacenter module in the North Sea in the spring of 2018 that was recently raised to the surface on July 9.

The idea was to avoid common datacenter problems such as workers jostling equipment, corrosion, temperature fluctuations and so on.

With only "a handful" of failed servers and related cables found, researchers believe that servers in underwater datacenters might be eight times more reliable than on-land counterparts, Microsoft said in a Sept. 14 article, "Microsoft finds underwater datacenters are reliable, practical and use energy sustainably."

Another potential benefit is many more location possibilities that could improve computing, as Microsoft noted. "More than half the world's population lives within 120 miles of the coast. By putting datacenters underwater near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel, leading to fast and smooth web surfing, video streaming and game playing."

During the proof-of-concept test, the datacenter was actually put to practical use to perform COVID-19 research, specifically for Folding at Home and World Community Grid.

The project's Web site says planned length of operation without maintenance could be up to five years.

"We are now at the point of trying to harness what we have done as opposed to feeling the need to go and prove out some more," the article quoted project lead Ben Cutler as saying. "We have done what we need to do. Natick is a key building block for the company to use if it is appropriate."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.

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