In 2014, Villanova Univ. researchers reported that datacenters were major source of energy waste. In fact, more than 2% of the U.S.’s total electricity usage can be attributed to datacenters. And almost half of that power was solely used for cooling the datacenters’ electronics.
To remedy the problem, Microsoft is looking to the world’s oceans.
“Project Natick” is attempting to pinpoint the pros and cons of manufacturing datacenters meant to operate below the ocean waves.
“The initial experimental prototype vessel, christened the Leona Philpot after a popular Xbox game character, was operated on the seafloor approximately one kilometer off the Pacific coast of the United States from August to November of 2015,” according to Microsoft. “Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud datacenter solutions that offer rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and are more environmentally sustainable.”
In addition to the ocean’s natural cooling effect, the datacenters could also help improve latency between an information source and its destination. With about 50% of the world’ population living within 200 km of the coastline, the placement of datacenters in the ocean may be beneficial. Further, Microsoft claims it has the ability to deploy a datacenter form start to finish within 90 days.
“The electricity that powers datacenters can be generated from renewable power sources such as wind and solar, or, in this case, perhaps wave or tidal power,” according to Microsoft.
The company believes the datacenters may be able to operate underwater for about 10 years.
The current research was inspired by a 2013 white paper produced by Microsoft employee Sean James, who had previous experience serving on submarines in the U.S. Navy.
“What helped me bridge the gap between datacenters and underwater is that I’d seen how you can put sophisticated electronics under water, and keep it shielded from salt water,” said James. “It goes through a very rigorous testing and design process. So I knew there was a way to do that.”
The research is still in its nascent stages.