Microsoft sinks datacentre off Orkney to create eco-friendly internet

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12 months after launching Project Natick in July 2014, Microsoft deployed a lab-built proof-of-concept prototype in calm, shallow waters off California.

Microsoft has sunk a massive data center to the bottom of the Scottish sea, The Verge reported Wednesday.

The 12-rack cylinder was built in France by a shipbuilding company, Naval, with Microsoft foreseeing future deployments where cylinders are sunk in groups of five - which could be why Microsoft patented artificial reefs made out of data centers past year.

The data centre was towed out to sea where it was lowered underwater, switched on and connected to data backhaul to shore through a combined fibre-optic and power cable. Cooling costs account for a significant proportion of the total cost of running traditional data centers, but the undersea data center will be cooled by the seawater that surrounds it.

Microsoft has submerged an experimental data center into the ocean floor of the Northern Isles near Scotland. But it also means that it is not possible to fix the servers if any components break.

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Compared to more conventional data centers that can span football fields, Project Natick's underwater facility is a gnat at about 40-feet long and resembles a cylinder-like cargo container typically seen on big, shipping vessels.

"We've got so much renewable energy here", says EMEC managing director Neil Kermode.

If Project Natick proves a success, Microsoft envisages sinking groups of five cylinders and being able to deploy a data centre offshore in 90 days, instead of the several years it would take on land. With the demand for their resources across the computing industry growing exponentially, Microsoft wants to find a solution to data storage that provides both the speed people expect and capacity that is more environmentally sustainable.

"Almost half of the world's population lives near large bodies of water", Cindy Rose, Microsoft's United Kingdom chief executive, said in a blog post Wednesday.

One of the major issues that remain with placing data centers under the sea is the impossibility of repairing computer servers if they fail, but Microsoft engineers believe that it is a risk that must be taken with so many additional benefits coming out of the project. "Naval Group's deep expertise in innovative marine technologies, including renewables, makes it an ideal choice for collaboration on Phase 2's design, fabrication, and deployment of a standard, manufacturable, rapidly deployable datacenter".