Microsoft’s Underwater Datacenters Proved Successful


Back in spring 2018, Microsoft’s Project Natick team deployed the Northern Isles datacenter 117 feet deep to the seafloor off Scotland’s Orkney Islands, to test a datacenter that’s quick to deploy and could provide internet connectivity for years.

After two years, the shipping-container-size datacenter coated in algae, barnacles, and sea anemones got reeled up from the seafloor earlier this summer and revealed that the results turned out to be great.

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The theory was that a sealed container on the ocean floor could provide ways to improve the overall reliability of data centers. The result, the underwater datacenter that has 12 racks containing 864 standard Microsoft datacenter servers with FPGA acceleration and 27.6 petabytes of disks had just one-eighth of the failure rate of their on-land counterparts.

The underwater datacenter concept started in 2014 during an internal event that gathers employees to share out-of-the-box ideas. After a few years of work, the team sunk the Natick Phase 2 vessel, “Northern Isles” in June 2018. During the next two years, Natick Northern Isles was used by more than 18 groups inside Microsoft. It was even re-tasked to provide additional resources for COVID-19 vaccine research via Folding at Home and World Community Grid back in March 2020 before it’s being hauled up in July 2020.

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It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.


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