Microsoft to apply Project Natick findings to ‘both land and sea datacentres’

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Microsoft to apply Project Natick findings to 'both land and sea datacentres'

A year after retrieving an experimental underwater datacentre from the Scottish seabed, Microsoft says it will look to apply its findings to both land- and sea-based datacentre builds. 

Microsoft dropped the 40-foot container off the coast of Orkney in 2018 to help inform its datacentre sustainability strategy. 

Talking to CRN, Spencer Fowers, principal member of technical staff at Microsoft Research, said the software giant is still in the process of analysing the data from the 864 servers that sat inside the capsule, which was pulled from the sea last July.  

The servers in the Natick datacentre were found to have one-eighth the failure rate of those on land, he explained. 

“And as we’ve begun to examine that, we’ve found that some of the biggest contributors to that increase in reliability have been the nitrogen environment, and then also just the hands-off style – there’s nobody inside to jostle the components or bump and disconnect things,” Fowers said. 

“That’s really improved our reliability.  

“We’re taking those findings and looking at ways we can apply them to improving land-based and underwater datacentres in the future.” 

Race to zero

With datacentres reportedly on course to generate two per cent of global Co2 by 2025, datacentre sustainability is a hot topic for channel partners looking to offer their customers the most sustainable compute options possible. 

All eyes are on the hyperscalers to up their game, with Google recently giving customers visibility over the Co2 emissions of its datacentre regions. 

Microsoft kicked off Project Natick back in 2014 with a 90-day deployment off the coast of California to determine if underwater datacentres were viable. 

The world’s oceans offer “free access” to cooling – which is one of the biggest costs for land-based datacentres, Fowers pointed out.

“You also get the benefit of proximity to customers – over 50 per cent of the world’s population lives within 200km of the sea,” he said. 

The Orkney deployment represented phase two of the project, Fowers explained. 

“The goal of phase two was to determine whether we could build a manufacturable underwater datacentre in a 90-day decision to power-on timeframe,” he said.

The project feeds into Microsoft’s goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030.

“We’ve made these big announcements around sustainability, and project Natick is a great example of how we are trying to find practical solutions,” he said.