Microsoft believes underwater data centers are the future


Half of us live near the coast, so why doesn’t our data? That’s the question that inspired the creation of Project Natick, a new type of data center that Microsoft is working on that will be operate underwater. Data centers have thousands of servers operating around the clock to deliver us our cat videos and filter-laden selfies, which generates obscene amounts of heat that costs data center operators tons of money to manage. Submerging a data center underwater would remove the need to manage that heat, and might even allow it to be powered by turbines or a tidal energy system, so it’s not too hard to understand why Microsoft is considering such a radical idea. 

Taking a page from Jules Verne, researchers at Microsoft believe the future of data centers may be under the sea. Microsoft has tested a prototype of a self-contained data center that can operate hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, eliminating one of the technology industry’s most expensive problems: the air-conditioning bill. Today’s data centers, which power everything from streaming video to social networking and email, contain thousands of computer servers generating lots of heat. When there is too much heat, the servers crash. Putting the gear under cold ocean water could fix the problem. It may also answer the exponentially growing energy demands of the computing world because Microsoft is considering pairing the system either with a turbine or a tidal energy system to generate electricity. The effort, code-named Project Natick, might lead to strands of giant steel tubes linked by fiber optic cables placed on the seafloor. Another possibility would suspend containers shaped like jelly beans beneath the surface to capture the ocean current with turbines that generate electricity. “When I first heard about this I thought, ‘Water … electricity, why would you do that?’ ” said Ben Cutler, a Microsoft computer designer who is one of the engineers who worked on the Project Natick system. “But as you think more about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.”


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