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Microsoft has ended its experiment of placing data centers at the bottom of the ocean

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In 2016, Microsoft announced an experiment called Project Natick. In basic terms, it was set up to see if data centers could be installed and operated underwater in the oceans. After several smaller test runs, the company installed its Northern Isles data center, with 864 servers, under 117 feet of water off the coast of Scotland in spring 2018.

In 2020, the company revealed the results of its largest test run for Project Natick. This confirmed his theory that placing a data center deep underwater allowed them to not run into as many problems as they would if they were installed normally on land, which could lead to hardware failures.

Indeed, Microsoft claims that the underwater servers suffered 1/8 of the equipment failures compared to a land-based data center. What’s more, Microsoft has claimed that such underwater servers can be set up and installed in 90 days, compared to up to two years for building an onshore data center.

However, despite those glowing reports four years ago, Microsoft has now quietly confirmed that it has ended its underwater data center experiment. as per to the Data Center Dynamics websiteNoel Walsh, head of Microsoft’s Cloud Operations + Innovation (CO+I) division, stated that the company is “not building underwater data centers anywhere in the world.”

Welsh added:

My team worked on it and it worked. We learned a lot about subsea operations and vibration and effects on the server. So we will apply these learnings to other cases.

Microsoft also offered its own statement about not continuing with future underwater data centers:

While we do not currently have data centers in water, we will continue to use Project Natick as a research platform to explore, test and validate new concepts around data center reliability and sustainability, for example with liquid immersion.

It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does next with the lessons learned from this experiment, especially since it will likely need to build more data centers to keep up with the current trend to offer AI services.

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