Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Finance | By Gustavo Carr

Microsoft sinks eco-friendly data centre off Scottish coast

Microsoft sinks eco-friendly data centre off Scottish coast

The company has sunk a new data center off the coast of Scotland's Orkney Islands, and assuming everything goes smoothly, it'll be on the ocean floor for at least the next five years.

If the project proves to be a success, Microsoft hopes to sink more data centers near coastal cities - with the ultimate goal of getting the centers operational within 90 days of the decision to deploy. Last night, Microsoft announced that this moonshot research effort has reached the second phase.

The experimental Northern Isles pre-packaged data centre operates some 36 metres below the surface, and is part of Microsoft's long term Project Natick program that started in 2014.

First, almost half the world's population lives within 150 km (120 miles) of the ocean and that having data centers close to computing hubs means smoother web surfing and less back and forth between users and servers. Project Natick is the name of the test pilot that uses a small data center, packed into a shipping container and dropped to the bottom of the sea. And because oceans are uniformly cool below a certain depth, keeping the machines under the sea would cut down the cooling costs that make up a large chunk of the operating budget of data centers. This week a group of researchers deployed the first working production data center 117 feet below the surface of the sea, where it is created to work without the need for maintenance for five years.

The European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland is an ideal locale to test the idea because it already serves as a test site for experimental tidal turbines and wave energy converters that generate electricity from the movement of seawater, according to Microsoft.

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"Despite being as powerful as several thousand high-end consumer PCs, the data centre uses minimal energy as it's naturally cooled". The company says that almost 50% of the world population lives near the coast so why shouldn't our data be there.

The submerged data center includes 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage - or almost 28 million gigabytes.

There's still a lot of research that needs to be done to make sure these designs are environmentally sustainable and reliable, and Microsoft will closely monitor the performance and environmental impact of this data center over the next year.

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