Microsoft is exploring the possibility of data centres located underwater close to major coastal towns and cities, and has recently completed a test deployment off the coast of California.
The Microsoft research effort, codenamed Project Natick, aims to evaluate the viability of operating a data centre on the seabed. The firm disclosed that the first such deployment took place on the seafloor about 1km off the Pacific coast of the US from August to November last year.
Approximately half of the world's population lives within 200km of the ocean, so placing data centres near to the shore would make them closer to the customers they serve, reducing latency and improving responsiveness, according to Microsoft.
The firm also said that having a data centre submerged in water should have advantages for cooling, and that this opens the possibility of using the sea as a source of energy to power the operation, possibly by harnessing power from tidal currents. This first deployment was apparently powered from the shore.
"The vision of operating containerised data centres offshore near major population centres anticipates a highly interactive future requiring data resources located close to users. Deepwater deployment offers ready access to cooling, renewable power sources and a controlled environment," Microsoft said in a statement on the Project Natick website.
The first prototype, christened the Leona Philpot after a popular Xbox game character in Halo, has been retrieved from the seafloor and taken to the firm's Redmond headquarters for analysis and refitting.
Microsoft considers the initial deployment to have been a success, but Project Natick is still very much at the research stage, and the firm said it is too early to say whether the concept will be adopted by Microsoft and other cloud service providers.
However, Microsoft anticipates that a production Natick deployment could last for up to five years, which is the anticipated lifespan of the servers inside. The submarine data centre would be retrieved after each five-year deployment cycle, then reloaded with new computers and redeployed.
The concept of subaquatic data centres has surfaced before. A few years ago, Google began building several barges with a superstructure composed of shipping containers in San Francisco bay, sparking speculation that these were to house floating data centres, but this was denied by the company.
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