No, this isn’t the premise of a Gerry Anderson TV show, Microsoft is genuinely dunking close to 1,000 servers off the Orkney Islands in Scotland.
The company is a major player in cloud infrastructure, and launched Project Natick back in 2014 as an initiative to find more environmentally sustainable ways of powering large data centres. In February 2016, the first step saw a small submersible data centre housing 300 desktop PCs dropped into the ocean. That smaller vessel ran for close to four months.
Now, two years later, Microsoft has taken Natick to the next step with a submersible about the size of a 40-foot-long shipping container equipped with 864 servers on 12 racks. The idea is that the it’s designed to function for five years without requiring any maintenance.
It might seem like a bit of a publicity stunt, but there’s actually some pretty sound logic going on here. Microsoft says that the focus is on energy efficiency and fast data transfer. About half the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the ocean, so off-shore data centres could allow for quicker access to online services.
The company also says that these data centres will be powered by wind mills located near the water – meaning power outages and energy costs won’t be an issue. Also, the sea (particularly around Scotland) is rather chilly so cooling the data centres is taken care of without additional costs.
Microsoft plans on monitoring the vessel for the next 12 months, with researchers monitoring power consumption, internal humidity levels and temperature. The plan is to perfect this system, making it cheaper to operate in the long run.