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In Pics: Microsoft Retrieves Its Underwater Datacenter After 2 Years

In Pics: Microsoft Retrieves Its Underwater Datacenter After 2 Years

Srishti Deoras

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In the spring of 2018, Microsoft deployed its Northern Isles datacenter 117 feet deep to the seafloor as a part of Project Natick. Microsoft has been experimenting with undersea data centres for years to understand the benefits and difficulties of deploying subsea data centres worldwide.

With 12 racks, 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes of storage, enough to store at least 5 million copies of Finding Nemo, the underwater data centre was installed in the Orkney Islands, Scotland in June 2018. While the feasibility of the underwater data centre was identified by the company in 2015, its deployment in Phase II included contracting with marine specialists in logistics, shipbuilding and renewable energy to show that the concept is also practical.



After two years of testing and monitoring the performance and reliability of the data centre’s servers, it has been taken out to observe the results.

“We are now at the point of trying to harness what we have done as opposed to feeling the need to go and prove out some more,” said Ben Cutler, a project manager in Microsoft’s Special Projects research group who leads Project Natick. “We have done what we need to do. Natick is a key building block for the company to use if it is appropriate.”

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Here, we include the journey of the much talked about underwater data centre in pics.

The container-size prototype, which is as powerful as several thousand high-end Personal Computer. The installation was led by Naval Group and performed by local marine contractor ‘Green Marine’. Pic: Microsoft

Microsoft’s Project Natick team gathers on a barge tied up to a dock during the installation of underwater datacenter. Pictured from left to right are Mike Shepperd, senior R&D engineer, Sam Ogden, senior software engineer, Spencer Fowers, a senior member of technical staff, Eric Peterson, researcher, and Ben Cutler, project manager. Pic: Microsoft

Spencer Fowers prepares the datacenter for deployment off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Scotland in 2018. The datacenter was secured to a ballast-filled triangular base that rests on the seafloor. Pic: Microsoft

Microsoft deploying its underwater datacenter in 2018 as a part of Project Natick. The Natick Phase 2 vessel, “Northern Isles”, was deployed at the European Marine Energy Centre on June 1st, 2018. At the deployment site, a cable containing fibre optic and power wiring was attached to the Microsoft datacenter, and then the datacenter and cable lowered foot-by-foot 117 feet to the seafloor.  Pic: Microsoft

Engineers slide racks of Microsoft servers and associated cooling system infrastructure in 2018. The datacenter had about the same dimensions as a 40-foot long ISO shipping container seen on ships, trains and trucks. Pic: Microsoft

Soon afterwards Microsoft installed two underwater cameras that provided a live view of the sunken data centre, helping to keep an eye on the environmental conditions near its data centre. Pic: The Verge

After 2 years, the team used a gantry barge to retrieve the datacentre from the seafloor off Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Pic: Microsoft

The steel tube has been covered with a coat of algae and barnacles as a result of being submerged in water for over two years. Pic: Microsoft

Members of the Project Natick team power washing the underwater datacenter which was recently revived. Pic: Microsoft

Members of the Project Natick’s team use a bucket lift to collect air samples from the cleaned underwater datacentre which was filled with dry nitrogen and sealed prior to the deployment underwater. Pic: Microsoft

Members inspect the inside of an underwater datacentre at Global Energy Group’s Nigg Energy Park facility in the North of Scotland. Pic: Microsoft

Spencer Fowers removes a server from the data centre. Researchers will analyse it to help determine why the servers in the underwater data centre were 8 times more reliable than those in a replica data centre on land. Pic: Microsoft

Members of the team remove 12 racks of server and related cooling system infrastructure from the data centre. Pic: Microsoft

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