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Microsoft shapes the future for data centres

Microsoft pushes boundaries and shapes the future for data centres

Microsoft is renowned for going above and beyond to provide the world today with outstanding products and services but in this blog, I want to talk Microsoft Project Natick!

So, what is Microsoft Project Natick?  Well, in short, it is a research project to find out if a sea-based data centre can be powered from offshore energy -  The project has just entered Phase 2.

Phase 2 has seen Microsoft submerge its self-sustaining underwater data centre in the ocean just off the shore of Orkney, which is apt due to Scotland being the largest test site for renewable energy.

“Data centres strike at the core of what Microsoft as a company does, it’s a far-out idea but highly relevant to the future of Microsoft”. Peter Lee Corporate Vice President – Microsoft Research.

How will the Microsoft submerged data centre work?

Being fully submerged beneath the sea has left us wondering how Microsoft envisions this working and for how long?

The answer is simple and more environmentally friendly than you may have first thought.

On the ocean floor, there is a cable connected to the data centre which provides locally-produced green energy and carries its data back ashore, connecting it to the wider internet.

The lights out (unmanned) data centre which has been submerged is expected to go 5 years without any maintenance, however, at the 5-year point, all computers will need to be replaced and submerged again.

The data centre’s well-engineered outer cylinder made from recycled material is expected to withstand biofouling (the fouling of underwater pipes and other surfaces by organisms such as algae) and is expected to last up to a staggering 20 years and can be recycled.

 “Regular” data centres are normally filled with several computers and larger data centres can often use up to 100 megawatts of energy.

Most of that energy isn’t necessarily used to power computers themselves; it is in fact used to keep them cool and prevent overheating.

On land we would use 20-30% of energy to cool data centres; moving a data centre into the water uses 0% of the energy supplied.

This out of the box idea sounded a little off the wall but if successful, could soon be one of the most monumental and innovative projects to grace the technology industry.

This exciting project leaves us wondering if Dynamics 356 will be one the first programs to be hosted within an offshore data centre and if so, how soon can we sign up?!

Paul Burns Chief Technology Officer has this to say about the Microsoft Natick Project “This really is a fascinating project and good to see it enter phase 2. The cost at the moment of getting this right with a 5-year refresh cycle and the refresh + recycling requirements may mean that early on at best this may be a break-even project, but if it helps save the environment clearly it could give Microsoft a winning formula.

The idea of saving energy particularly on cooling has been an important idea that successive generations of data centre design have improved on, but this takes it to a new level quite literally. In fact, it brings a whole new meaning to “My server has just gone DOWN!”  Sorry, couldn’t resist….”

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