Microsoft halts undersea data centers

Microsoft halts undersea data centers

Microsoft has ended its experiments with undersea data centers in Project Natick. However, the lessons learned from this project will be considered for future improvements to data center environments.

In an interview with Datacenterdyamics, the tech giant confirmed that it does not currently have or will not implement undersea data centers anywhere in the world. According to Noelle Walsh, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Cloud Operations + Innovation team, no undersea data centers are being built or maintained anywhere in the world.

Walsh says the results of the submarine data center project will be incorporated into further development efforts around data centers.

Project Natick

The tech giant’s announcement ends Project Natick, which began in 2018 and examined the impact of undersea data centers. That year, a special pod with an actively operating data center on board was placed on the seabed of the North Sea near Scotland as part of Project Natick.

The data center consisted of 855 servers and associated cooling infrastructure. It was then underwater for 25 months and eight days. In 2015, a 105-day test was already conducted in the Pacific Ocean with an undersea data center.

The test in the Scottish waters was to determine whether it was possible to place data centers under (sea) water and what effects this had on their operation. Other factors were also examined, such as placing the racks in a full nitrogen environment instead of an oxygen environment.

Test results

In 2020, the pod with the working data center resurfaced to record the results. Interesting results included that these data centers had only a 1/8th failure rate compared to land-based data centers. Out of 855 servers, only six were down.

In a comparative test with 135 servers in a land-based data center, eight servers broke down during the test period. This means the undersea data center had only a 1/8th failure rate compared to the land-based data center. According to the tech giant, this low failure rate is possibly due to the stable ambient temperature of the undersea server environment.

In addition, the tech giant reportedly learned more about how vibrations affect servers in data centers. Microsoft has not shared other results.

Other initiatives

Microsoft is not the only vendor investigating data centers below sea level. Last year, Chinese maritime tech company Highlander placed a 1,433-ton commercial undersea data center on the seabed near Hainan Island.

The US company Subsea Cloud, among others, would build a subsea data center off the coast of Washington state, and the tech company Nautilus would develop floating data centers.

Also read: nLighten wants to build sustainable datacenters all over Europe