Microsoft uses undersea datacenter in search for a COVID-19 vaccine

The challenge facing the researchers who are trying to find a treatment for COVID-19 is scale. There is a huge need for computing power at scale. Protein folding is the key to understanding how the viruses attach themselves to healthy cells, for infections to occur. 

The problem is that modelling this protein folding is not easy without massive computing power. Modelling gets a boost from distributing the computing effort across consumer PCs, much like blockchain works. Some of the programs include Folding@home, which is a global program that uses distributed methods.

Undersea data centers

Microsoft is running tests on pre-packed data centers the size of a shipping container each. The goal is to have them available so they can be spun up on-demand and do their work deep under the ocean’s surface.

That way, they become sustainable, cooled, and highly efficient, to offer contributions to efforts like the COVID-19 treatment search. At the moment, they are using one of these datacenters in Scotland to model viral proteins that lead to the virus.

Shifting attention

This research project is not a new thing for Microsoft. They have been operating the datacenter, which lies 117 feet beneath the ocean surface, for two years. The shift they are making to COVID-19 is one of paying attention to what’s imminent.

It is a response to the need for advances in the understanding of the SARS-CoV-19 virus and the therapies we can potentially use in preventing it or treating it.

In the tubular datacenters, are 864 servers with significant power. The idea of packing them is all about providing cooling. Computing power generates a lot of heat, and having them sit in the ocean makes it easier to cool them and keep them running longer and perform better.

It’s like having a high-performance gaming rig, but for modelling. The project is called ‘Natick’ and seems to be the future.