project natrick microsoft data centre

Microsoft debuts full-scale underwater data centre powered by renewables

Image credit: microsoft

Microsoft has launched a five-year trial for a data centre that will be submersed in the ocean in order to cool it on the cheap.

Air conditioning typically consumes a large proportion of the electricity needed to power data centres due to the amount of heat that the racks of computers generate.

Many are located either in cold regions to keep these costs down or near consistent and abundant power sources such as hydroelectric dams.

Microsoft first trialled a smaller version of its submersed data centre in 2016, dubbed Project Natrick Phase 1, which demonstrated that such a facility could work under the ocean without the need for physical maintenance. 

While the project proved successful, Phase 2 is a full-scale prototype of a commercial facility that will allow Microsoft to gain an understanding of the economics of undersea data centres.

project natrick microsoft data centre

Image credit: microsoft

The shipping-container-sized prototype is being lowered into the sea near the Orkney Islands, where  it will be left for five years before being recovered in an attempt to demonstrate successful operation without maintenance.

“Despite being as powerful as several thousand high-end consumer PCs, the data centre uses minimal energy, as it’s naturally cooled,” Cindy Rose, chief executive of Microsoft UK said in a blog post. 

“It is powered by renewable energy from the European Marine Energy Centre’s tidal turbines and wave energy converters, which generate electricity from the movement of the sea.

“Creating solutions that are sustainable is critical for Microsoft, and Project Natick is a step towards our vision of data centres with their own sustainable power supply.

“Almost half of the world’s population lives near large bodies of water. Having data centres closer to billions of people using the internet will ensure faster and smoother web browsing, video streaming and gaming, while businesses can enjoy AI-driven technologies.”

Driving down the energy consumption of data centres could go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions in the future.

Last year researchers predicted that data centres could end up using 20 per cent of all available electricity in the world by 2025. 

Project Natrick Phase 2 will be powered by renewable energy generated locally on the Orkney Islands.

Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish energy minister, 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.”

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