Titled Project Natick, Microsoft successfully managed to submerge a prototype data center deep into the Pacific Ocean and still have functional internet back on land. Microsoft believes that because most of humanity lives close to the coast, it makes sense that data centers should be on their doorstep, as this would significantly reduce latency.
In terms of powering the underwater data center itself, the goal is to use marine energy sources, like wind and the natural current of the ocean. From an environmental standpoint, an ocean data center would vastly reduce the amount of energy needed to cool down the hardware. A huge amount of energy is needed to cool data centers, as air-conditioning is vital to keep the hardware from overheating. When that happens, servers go down, internet is lost, and customers get angry. Microsoft is hoping that the deep sea data center can erase all that, somewhat similarly to Facebook’s solution of housing a data center in the freezing cold of Lulea, Sweden.
The first submersible data center was housed in a 10 x 7-foot cylindrical shell, which stayed underwater for two months at a depth of 30 feet. No signs of hardware failure or leaks were reported and no sea life was harmed. Now, the go-ahead has been given to conduct trials on a larger scale, by building a rig four times the size of the first.
As for when the underwater data center could actually become commonplace, that remains to be seen. Far more tests and research are necessary, but it’s an exciting time to discover ways to reduce energy for one of the most power-hungry branches of the tech industry. For the meantime, however, cloud servers are rapidly being seen as the best way for companies to store and access data. This is not only because of the cost and flexibility advantages, but also for eco-friendly reasons too, as stated in this guide regarding the benefits of the cloud:
“Data centres that are designed for cloud servers have far more effective processes for power supply, ventilation, and fire safety, than those available in internal servers. Furthermore, numerous hosting providers use climate-neutral electricity and renewable energy for the maintenance of their data centres.”
But overall, an increase in cloud hosting and ideas for submersible data centers can’t come quick enough. A recent report found that “U.S. data centers consumed 626 billion liters of water in 2014 and are on track to consume 660 billion liters of water by 2020.” This is an eye-opening amount to comprehend, and only serves to strengthen the need for more sustainable data centers. Although the numbers are tough to stomach, the thirst for rapid and reliable internet service is undeniable. We want fast-streaming videos, but we also don’t want our environment to suffer for it. So what’s the solution? It all goes back to the ocean, something that it appears Google too have been working on.
A patent has surfaced online that shows Google’s plans for a moveable data center contained on a ship, one which – wait for it – is pulled to anywhere it’s needed by flying windmills. While it does sound fantastical, looking at the plans will show you all you need to know. Cloud hosting is a great option right now, but it seems the future of data centers is under the waves.