Microsoft Plans to Turn the Seas into Giant Data Centers (MSFT)

Codenamed Project Natick, the Redmond tech titan is literally testing the waters for new ways to store data.

Microsoft MSFT

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) believes that the future of data centers could be several thousand feet under the ocean. Taking a page from Jules Verne, Microsoft researchers are now testing a self-contained data center, one that can operate a few hundred feet below the surface of the ocean. Why? To reduce energy consumption.

Traditional data centers – which are used to power everything from videos to social networking – are comprised of thousands of computer servers and the centers can get pretty toasty. If the servers generate too much heat, they crash. Hence, data storage facilities spend millions of dollars on air conditioning.

Microsoft researchers believe that putting data storage facilities underwater could provide a cool environment for the servers round the clock, without the added costs. Microsoft is also considering pairing the system with a turbine or a tidal energy system to generate electricity.

The ambitious project – code-named Project Natick – could require giant steel tubes linked by fiber optic cables embedded on the sea floor. It could also require suspending the containers, shaped like jelly beans, under the surface of the ocean to capture current and convert it into electricity.

“When I first heard about this I thought, ‘Water, electricity, why would you do that?’,” said Ben Cutler, a Microsoft computer designer who is one of the engineers who worked on the Project Natick system. “But as you think more about it; it actually makes a lot of sense.”

The idea is not only radical and expensive; it also raises environmental concerns and unforeseen technical issues. But researchers are confident that mass producing the capsules could reduce the deployment time of new data centers to just 90 days instead of 2 years.

The undersea server centers do more than provide round the clock air conditioning; it could also improve web services. Most of the world’s population lives in urban areas that are very close to the water but data centers are located in isolated areas for more room.

“For years, the main cloud providers have been seeking sites around the world not only for green energy but which also take advantage of the environment,” said Larry Smarr, a physicist, and scientific computing specialist.

Microsoft manages more than 100 data centers all over the world, spending about $15 billion on a global data center system and provides 200 online services. The Redmond tech giant is always looking for ways to improve its service and if the project becomes successful, the real winners are the internet users and web services companies.

Back in 2014, Microsoft spearheaded an innovative approach to speed up the process of powering up cloud computing systems.

“When you pull out your smartphone you think you’re using this miraculous little computer, but actually you’re using more than 100 computers out in this thing called the cloud,” said Peter Lee, corporate vice president for Microsoft Research and the NExT organization. “And then you multiply that by billions of people, and that’s just a huge amount of computing work.”

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