Microsoft sinks data centre in sea near Orkney

U.S. tech giant Microsoft has submerged a data centre off the Orkney archipelago in northern Scotland in a project to save on the energy used to cool the servers on land.

It is 12.2 metres long and 3.18 metres wide, and contains 12 racks with 864 servers in total supplemented by field programmable gate array (FPGA) accelerator cards.

Orkney was chosen as a location because it is a major centre for renewable energy research. It works by piping seawater through radiators on the back of each rack to cool them down, before the now-heated water is expelled back into the ocean where it mixes with the surrounding currents. 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 energy centre is a test site for experimental tidal turbines and wave energy converters that generate electricity from the movement of seawater. An undersea cable powers the data center, providing it with an internet connection as well. 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.

The biggest challenge for Microsoft is that you can't send a network admin or service tech to fix any computers that go down when the data center is under water.

"We think we actually get much better cooling underwater than on land", says Ben Cutler, who is in charge of what Microsoft has dubbed Project Natick.

French marine engineering company Naval Group designed and built the subsea data centre for Microsoft.

While Phase one of Project Natick confirmed that underwater datacenter concept is feasible, Phase two is focused on researching whether the concept is logistically, environmentally and economically practical.

More than half the world's population lives less than 200 kilometres from the coast, Microsoft noted. By sinking undersea data centers near these coastal cities, Microsoft enables faster web surfing, video streaming, and game playing, while also bolstering cloud-based AI capabilities.

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