Microsoft Is Taking Cloud Computing to the Ocean Floor


Half of the world's population lives within about 124 miles of the ocean, according to Microsoft's Project Natick. The company has been experimenting with the idea of moving datacenters into the sea, where they will be closer to customers and thus require shorter connecting data cables. The first prototype for an underwater data center was successfully dropped to the ocean floor for 105 days, and now Microsoft is hoping to use observations from the project to improve how we access the cloud.

Project Natick, which started in 2013, is focused on improving several aspects of cloud computing, from getting data to devices faster to making the process more environmentally sustainable. Typically, datacenters are large facilities that house row after row of server racks where data is stored and transferred, but they are expensive to operate and not always in the most central geographic locations.

In the video above, which explains the project and shows the prototype building and deployment processes, Kramer explains that the plan to move datacenters closer to where the customers are "made a great amount of sense."

Last year, after months of planning and building, Project Natick took a 38,000-pound container holding a working datacenter—named Leona Philpot after a character from the Halo video game franchise—and successfully dropped it into the Pacific Ocean half a mile away from land. Inside was a single server rack surrounded by a cooling system and various electronic components that control the datacenter. The container was left in the ocean for three months while Project Natick collected data on the speed of the current, the temperature and humidity, and how much power the servers used. 

Peter Lee, Corporate VP of Microsoft Research, said that what the team is learning from the experiment will be more valuable than the achievement of doing it. "We’re learning how to reconfigure firmware and drivers for disk drives, to get longer life out of them. We’re managing power, learning more about using less. These lessons will translate to better ways to operate our datacenters."

Next up: Microsoft plans to build another prototype that is three times larger than the first, according to The Verge, and to begin new ocean trials by next year.

Banner image via YouTube

[h/t The Verge]