Water cooling systems have been used for a long time to prevent computers from overheating, but how does it expand to huge data centers? According to Microsoft, you throw the data center to the bottom of the ocean. As the second phase of its Natick Project, the company has just installed a data center in the cold waters of the Orkney Islands of Scotland.
Cooling is one of the biggest operating costs of a data center, so companies are devising creative ways to keep technology well relaxed. Google freed its DeepMind AI from the problem, while other companies have strategically constructed facilities in cold places such as the Arctic Circle or below the Norwegian Fjords.
With Project Natick, Microsoft has been experimenting with immersing data centers in the depths of the ocean and pumping cold sea water to keep them cool. In 2015, Phase 1 of the project saw a prototype 10 feet (3 m) long submerged off the coast of California for 105 days, demonstrating the feasibility of the concept.
Phase 2 was designed to test whether the idea was practical in a logistical, environmental and economic sense. Microsoft partnered with a French marine manufacturing company called the Naval Group, which designed the hermetic cylindrical shell and adapted an underwater cooling system commonly used to work with the data center.
Known as the Northern Isles data center, the new facility is 117 feet (36 m) below the waves, 40 feet (12 m) long and contains 12 server racks loaded with a total of 864 servers . To cool them, seawater is channeled through the radiators on the back of the server’s racks, before being released back into the ocean.
The center is connected to the world through a fiber optic cable and obtains most of its power from the nearby Orkney Islands. Interestingly, 100% of the region’s energy comes from renewable sources, thanks to wind turbines, solar panels and other more experimental sources, such as tidal turbines and wave energy converters.
The team says that the ultimate goal of Project Natick is that these underwater data centers are self-sustaining, fully fueled by wind generators, waves or marine tides. By doing so, they could essentially immerse themselves near any coastal city where they are needed and provide faster Internet and cloud services.
This phase of the Natick Project will allow the team to monitor the data center of the Northern Islands during the next 12 months, monitoring their performance, energy consumption, sound, humidity and temperature. This version is designed to operate continuously there for up to five years without maintenance.