Microsoft retrieves underwater data centre after two years

Clean energy moonshot housed 864 servers in a container off the coast of Orkney

Microsoft has retrieved a data centre from the ocean floor, just off the coast of Orkney, Scotland, and early signs show that the project was a successful moonshot. 

Of the 864 servers onboard, Microsoft reports that only eight faulted, which is an eighth of the failure rate of a typical land-based data centre.

A team from Microsoft sank the cylindrical storage container, called "project Natick", in 2018. It was loaded with 12 server racks and ocean water was used to keep the servers cool. The container was also sealed and filled with nitrogen, which is not as corrosive to computer equipment as oxygen.

The Natick research team are now conducting tests on the data centre to see what they can learn from the experiment and how it could help to solve environmental problems raised by conventional data centres.  

"Computers are not designed to work in the environment we humans operate," said Spencer Fowers, principal researcher for project Natick. "Things like oxygen, moisture in the air, that is really bad for computers, it causes corrosion on the components. 

"You also get temperature fluctuations. The heat from night to day, summer to winter, can cause those components to fail so we had this theory: if we're in a really stable environment, we're in this cylinder, we've taken all the oxygen out, controlled the humidity, no one's walking around, bumping into things, causing additional failures, we'd see better reliability." 

The concept of an underwater data centre first came up at Microsoft's 2014 'ThinkWeek' as a way to provide fast cloud services to coastal populations. With more than half of the world's population living within 120 miles of a coast, localised hubs would give data a shorter distance to travel, leading to smoother, faster services. 

Related Resource

The trusted data centre

Best practices and business results for organisations based in Europe

Data centre best practices and business results for organisations based in Europe - whitepaper from DellDownload now

Once it was hauled out of the sea, the container was cleaned and air-samples were retrieved. The data centre was then loaded onto a truck and driven to a facility in the North of Scotland, where the server racks were slid out so Fowers and his team could perform health checks and collect components to send to Microsoft for analysis.

Among the components boxed up and sent were the failed servers and related cables. The researchers think this hardware will help them to understand why the servers in the underwater data centre are seemingly more reliable than those on land.

Featured Resources

Consumer choice and the payment experience

A software provider's guide to getting, growing, and keeping customers

Download now

Prevent fraud and phishing attacks with DMARC

How to use domain-based message authentication, reporting, and conformance for email security

Download now

Business in the new economy landscape

How we coped with 2020 and looking ahead to a brighter 2021

Download now

How to increase cyber resilience within your organisation

Cyber resilience for dummies

Download now

Recommended

How to get help in Windows 10
operating systems

How to get help in Windows 10

18 Jun 2021
Microsoft reveals plans for massive cloud expansion in China
data centres

Microsoft reveals plans for massive cloud expansion in China

18 Jun 2021
Microsoft's Nadella now holds dual role of CEO and chairman
Careers & training

Microsoft's Nadella now holds dual role of CEO and chairman

17 Jun 2021
Windows 11 leaks in full after early build shows up online
Microsoft Windows

Windows 11 leaks in full after early build shows up online

16 Jun 2021

Most Popular

How to find RAM speed, size and type
Laptops

How to find RAM speed, size and type

16 Jun 2021
What is HTTP error 400 and how do you fix it?
Network & Internet

What is HTTP error 400 and how do you fix it?

16 Jun 2021
Ten-year-old iOS 4 recreated as an iPhone app
iOS

Ten-year-old iOS 4 recreated as an iPhone app

10 Jun 2021