Microsoft have launched phase 2 Project Natick, a data centre sunk under-water in Orkney to improve cooling efficiency, in a bid to reduce running costs.

Data centres are a growing industry, providing the backbone for cloud-computing that so many of us now rely on. One of the largest costs of running a data centre, is the energy needed to cool it down. All of that computing power produces immense amounts of heat. Because of this, these data centres use huge amounts of energy for cooling, which of course also costs them more to run.

The thinking behind Project Natick is that the water can do the majority of the cooling. Built in a sealed container, the data centre will be submerged for 5 years. The vessel’s power is supplied via an undersea cable supplying power and retrieving the data back to shore. The only downside is that if something breaks down, there’s no way of getting inside to fix it.

The man in charge, Ben Cutler explains the theory behind Project Natick; “We think we actually get much better cooling underwater than on land. Additionally because there are no people, we can take all the oxygen and most of the water vapour out of the atmosphere which reduces corrosion, which is a significant problem in data centres.”

Orkney has been chosen as the place to perform this test, due to the area’s involvement in renewable energy research.

What does this hold for the future?

The added bonus that underwater data centres can offer, is the increased speed of deployment this technology would offer. Rather than having to spend years planning and building a new data centre, these pods can be produced in a factory. This vessel for the data centre took just 90 days to construct. Such speeds allow for a much faster set-up over  ground-based data centres.

The Project Natick team will observe the centre for 5 years. They’ll be looking to see how the centre performs, and whether this could be the future for all data centres.