Microsoft's Data Centre Willingly Gets in the Sea

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Microsoft chose to place the data center in Europe off the shore of Orkney, a major center for renewable energy research, to try and determine if placing a data center under water could boost energy efficiency.

Project Natick will stay submerged for five years if all goes to plan.

Project Natick is now in its second phase, in which the data center is still physically hooked up to an onshore, renewable power source. Last night, Microsoft announced that this moonshot research effort has reached the second phase.

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Data centres in the water near coastal cities puts them closer to users, improving the performance of web apps and services, video streaming, games and the delivery of realistic artificial intelligence experiences, the company said.

Cooling is a huge cost in any large-scale computing operation, meaning that the ocean's naturally low temperatures reduce the energy and money required to maintain the servers which connect other computers to the internet. Currently, the centers are expected to run without maintenance for 5 years.

More than half the world's population lives less than 200 kilometres from the coast, Microsoft noted.

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Dunking the data center in Orkney waters will limit the cost of cooling the machines - an enormous expense for many data center operators, and it will also allow the center to benefit from the islands' renewable energy, according to Microsoft. 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.

Christian Belady, general manager of cloud infrastructure strategy and architecture, said their hope is to one day have a fleet of data centers with their own sustainable power supply that can be sent anywhere.

The tech giant sunk a 40-foot vessel, which contains 12 racks of computers and 864 servers, off the coast of Orkney, a group of islands located off Scotland.

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Not only does it not require any additional energy to cool the center, the power it does draw is not contributing to climate change. And EMEC has been experimenting with tidal and wave energy for 14 years, with one of its test sites on the beach where the Project Natick cable comes ashore.