In the fall of 2015, Microsoft placed an underwater data center prototype on the floor of the Pacific, just half a mile from the US coast. The project, known as Natick, has proven that the subsea data center is effective, cost-saving, environmentally friendly, and reliable. These data centers are a new kind of construction, one to watch for in the future.
The experimental prototype, nicknamed Leona Philpot (from the Halo game series), was cooled by the surrounding water and had little effect on the water’s temperature, so future projects will hopefully have little to no negative impact on already-fragile ocean ecosystems. The next phase of the project will be equipping the underwater data center with turbines or a tidal energy system to convert the ocean current into electrical current. The centers are made out of recycled material, and when they are removed from the water they can be disassembled and reused.
The proximity to users improved reliability — according to Microsoft’s data, over half the global population lives within 200 kilometers of the sea. The data center experiment was conducted off of the Central California coast, near San Louis Obispo.
The project was so successful that the time was extended an additional 75 days (long enough to acquire barnacles) and real customer workloads were incorporated. There may be some vulnerability to leaks and hardware failure, but Microsoft’s team equipped the prototype with different sensors to measure motion, humidity, and other factors.
Projects like this one have the potential to not only revolutionize data and technology, but also construction.