Microsoft’s undersea datacenter is 8x more reliable than land centers

Usually get in trouble when we take our electronics into the water. Game Boys don’t work in the pool, apparently. But Microsoft’s Project Natick dumped 864 servers into the water for two years and is just pulling them out for what it’s considering a successful experiment. Underwater data centers, Microsoft says, might be “feasibly…logistically, environmentally, and economically practical.”

Eight times more reliable

Two years ago, Microsoft dunked a self-contained datacenter into the waters off the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. The pod contained 12 racks with 864 servers. Microsoft says the pod had a hardware failure rate one eighth of traditional land-locked datacenters. The Project Natick team believes this huge improvement comes from a few factors. First, Microsoft filled the pod not with oxygen, but a less-corrosive nitrogen atmosphere. Second, the off-shore server didn’t have any people around to bump and jostle components.

Microsoft says it learned a bunch of stuff from the experiment. The improved failure rate is a significant enough difference to offset the cost of the underwater deployment.

“I have an economic model that says if I lose so many servers per unit of time, I’m at least at parity with land,” said Ben Cutler, a project manager in Microsoft’s Special Projects research group. “We are considerably better than that.”

Environmentally sustainable

The project is also informing the team about ways to power and cool data centers. The data centers could be deployed alongside offshore windfarms, for example. The cooler undersea environment allows for generally more energy-efficient designs; Microsoft says these pods could leverage heat-exchange plumbing. In other words, the biggest water-cooled computer with the biggest reservoir ever. The project “has shown that datacenters can be operated and kept cool without tapping freshwater resources that are vital to people, agriculture and wildlife.” Even the less-frequent hardware replacement is a significant environmental improvement when taken at scale.

Half of the world’s population lives within 120 miles of coastline. Based on the success of this experiment, it’s not wild to think this could become a more common sight in five or ten years.

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Basil Dazz
Basil Dazz
5 months ago

Consistent 3 degrees centigrade, unlike changeable temperatures in rooms, even with aircon.

quock
quock
6 months ago

Game Boys don’t work in the pool, apparently.

Now I’m imagining Nintendo making a Game Buoy to do just that.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
6 months ago

why not send it into space where its much cooler? no need to warm up the water and disturb the ecosystem.

Bob
Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  Al Bundy

I know it’s a joke, but radiating heat in space is actually quite hard. You have no air for convention cooling, so you are relying on heat radiation alone. The ISS has HUGE radiators to dissipate heat.

Keith Patrick
Keith Patrick
6 months ago
Reply to  Al Bundy

I’m just guessing that a) it’s way, way more expensive to do maintenance on a space datacenter than an underwater one, and b) space is cold, but doesn’t really cool things as well as water in that there is not much matter in space to carry the heat away.

luke
luke
6 months ago

How much care went into setting up the ‘comparable’ land-based data racks? I assure you a tremendous amount of care went into setting up the ones that went into the water.

They just comparing apples and oranges here. I also am curious what hardware failed. What type of hardware ‘benefited’ from their experimental underwater platform? Processors, memory, storage, boards?

Casual Visitor
Casual Visitor
6 months ago

Once they deploy a lot of these, I imagine the units will be effectively dumping heat into the sea. Just like dumping too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, there could be ecological consequences. The fact that they want to deploy them near offshore wind power means they will accumulate in those areas, and this will exacerbate the issue.

That said, I can’t wait to use a submarine to exfiltrate sensitive data.

npl
npl
6 months ago

 Second, the off-shore server didn’t have any people around to bump and jostle components

so whats stopping just locking up a on-shore datahouse? on-off shore makes lill difference there.

I mean as soon as we build underwater cities people will bump into underwater servers again.

Wirko
Wirko
6 months ago

The legal status of Orkney’s seabed is … funny.

Orkney Guide Book: Udal Law
The battle for control of Scotland’s coastline
The only data protection law that undisputably applies there is probably that of the Vikings, I assume.

chuckula
6 months ago

Yes but what about the pirates?

Aranarth
Aranarth
6 months ago
Reply to  chuckula

They stay in the bay… no worries!

Krogoth
Krogoth
6 months ago
Reply to  chuckula

They are waiting for Pirate Lake CPU, but it was cancelled by Intel.

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