Microsoft just sent its first self-sufficient, waterproof data center to the bottom of the ocean floor near the Orkney Islands in Scotland, the company announced on Tuesday. About the size of a shipping container, the tubular data center holds 12 racks loaded with 864 servers and is attached to a large triangular weight that anchors it to the seabed over 100 feet beneath the ocean surface.
The deployment of the data center represents the culmination of a nearly four year research effort code-named Project Natick, which aimed to develop rapidly deployable data centers that can support cloud computing services near major cities
In addition to cutting down the amount of time needed to create a data center on land from about 2 years to around 90 days, the submarine data center has the added benefit of natural cooling from the ocean, eliminating one of the biggest costs of running a data center on land. The bottom of the ocean is also isolated from many disasters that could affect land based data centers, such as war or hurricanes, although Microsoft did not mention how difficult it would be to make repairs to the servers inside the container should they malfunction.
The Orkney Islands was a strategic choice for the first data center since the islands are also testing experimental renewable energy projects. The islands are home of the European Marine Energy Center, which takes advantage of the naturally turbulent water to harvest tidal energy in addition to a substantial amount of wind energy generated on land to create 100 percent renewable energy for the island. The EMEC generates more than enough energy for the islands’ 10,000 residents and a cable linked to the Orkney Island grid powers Microsoft’s underwater data center.