Microsoft has come up with a great way to store data and save on cooling costs for those data centers at the same time—and they’re getting ready to take the plunge! The audacious new plan involves putting all of the data inside waterproof steel capsules and then submerging the enclosed data centers in the ocean for up to five years. Dubbed Project Natick, the concept is the brainchild of Microsoft’s Research and Development department, and could save the company a lot of money in cooling compared to traditional server farms.
The data centers would, in theory, sit in the steel capsules a the bottom of the sea for half a decade, where they would remain cooler due to the ocean floor’s sun-deprived temperature. The sunken centers would be more easily deployed, reduce emissions that are normally let out into the Earth’s atmosphere, and save both Microsoft and consumers money thanks to them not needing to construct large air-conditioners or the rooms needed to store them all in. Microsoft’s designs make it so that the capsule will last twenty years underwater, but will be removed temporarily so that technicians can swap out the servers every five years.
The company recently conducted its first mission and all went well. It deployed its first prototype—a submarine/capsule called the Leona Philpot (named after a character in the Halo video game series)—between August and November of 2015 and was pleased with the results. Inside the capsule was just one server rack surrounded by pressurized nitrogen, which removed heat from the components. Sure, that doesn’t sound all that impressive to many at the moment, but it’s a great start. On a grander scale and over the long term, the results should really pay off.
Project Natick came about in 2011 when Microsoft teamed up with a group at the University of Virginia in order to create a ‘data furnace’—a concept of crafting mini data centers that would see their excess heat pumped out in order to be used for warming a home or small office building. Other companies, such as Facebook and Google, had similar ideas. The social media giant built a data center in northern Sweden where it could utilize the region’s naturally frigid temperatures to save on cooling costs. Google installed a data center in Finland where it uses the cooler and easily accessible seawater to drop the temps down on its storage facility.
While the full launch of Microsoft’s idea is still some time away, it’s great to know that they haven’t wasted their time on some fruitless endeavor. And with 90% of the Earth being covered by water, it appears that their plan isn’t going to sink any time soon.