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Microsoft pulled its underwater data center out of the sea in Scotland

CNN logo CNN 3 days ago By Alexis Benveniste, CNN Business
The Northern Isles underwater datacenter was attached to a ballast-filled triangular base for deployment 117 feet deep on the seafloor off the Orkney Islands in Scotland in 2018. The Project Natick team retrieved the datacenter in July 2020. Two years underwater provided time for a thin coat of algae and barnacles to form on the steel tube, and for sea anemones to grow to cantaloupe size in the sheltered nooks of the base. Photo by Jonathan Banks. © Jonathan Banks The Northern Isles underwater datacenter was attached to a ballast-filled triangular base for deployment 117 feet deep on the seafloor off the Orkney Islands in Scotland in 2018. The Project Natick team retrieved the datacenter in July 2020. Two years underwater provided time for a thin coat of algae and barnacles to form on the steel tube, and for sea anemones to grow to cantaloupe size in the sheltered nooks of the base. Photo by Jonathan Banks.

Microsoft pulled its second underwater data center out of the water in Scotland.

The tech company placed a data center 117 feet underwater in spring 2018, calling it Project Natick. Microsoft hoped that dumping computers in the ocean might be the way of the future. The vessel was designed with cooling systems and powered by renewable energy.

This is Microsoft's second data center vessel. For phase one of the underwater data center experimentation, Microsoft deployed a vessel in California, which was operated on the seafloor of the Pacific coast. It was underwater from August to November 2016.

As for Project Natick's state when it was uncovered, "We were pretty impressed with how clean it was, actually," said Spencer Fowers, a principal member of technical staff for Microsoft's Special Projects research group.

The deployment and retrieval of the data center each took a day, according to a Microsoft press release.

Once retrieved, the vessel was power washed and used for data collection.

So why underwater? The team at Microsoft hypothesizes that the nitrogen, which is less corrosive than oxygen, and the absence of people to bump and jostle components, make the data center more reliable than data centers on land, according to the press release. And with heat adding much of the power requirements for data centers, the self-cooling underwater atmosphere makes the vessel more efficient.

"Our failure rate in the water is one-eighth of what we see on land," Ben Cutler, a project manager in Microsoft's Special Projects research group who leads Project Natick, said.

Microsoft's stock is up 30% over the last year.

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