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Microsoft sinks a datacenter in the Scottish sea

Konstantin Sheiko
June 7, 2018

In latest tech news, Microsoft has sunk a data-centre off the coast of Orkney to create quicker and “eco-friendly” internet. The 40ft cylinder is powered by tidal turbines and wave energy converters, using the water to cool naturally. It is hoped Project Natick will see data-centres, described as the “backbone of the internet”, able to operate untouched for up to five years. 

Despite being as powerful as several thousand high-end consumer PCs, the data centre uses minimal energy as it is naturally cooled. Having data-centres closer to people using the internet would create faster and smoother web browsing, video streaming and gaming. 

One way to do this is by placing them underwater near coasts, according to Microsoft, as more than half of the world’s population live within one hundred twenty miles of a shoreline. The target lifespan of a Natick data-centre is at least twenty years. 

After each five-year cycle, the vessel would be retrieved, reloaded with new computers, and redeployed. It is designed to be retrieved and recycled at the end of its lifespan. The cylinder is loaded with 12 racks containing 864 servers and associated cooling system infrastructure. It was assembled and tested in France and shipped on a flatbed truck to Scotland, where it was attached to a base for deployment on the seabed. 

Scottish Government energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “With our supportive policy environment, skilled supply chain and our renewable energy resources and expertise, Scotland is the ideal place to invest in projects such as this. “This development is, clearly, especially welcome news also for the local economy in Orkney and a boost to the low carbon cluster there. “It helps to strengthen Scotland’s position as a champion of the new ideas and innovation that will shape the future.” 

Over the next 12 months, the research team will monitor and record the performance of the data-centre in Orkney. The first stage of Project Natick showed the underwater concept is feasible while phase two is focused on investigating whether the concept is logistically, environmentally and economically practical.

Photos via Microsoft / Scott Eklund / Red Box Pictures