Computers underwater? The thought of using the vast power of the ocean to power and cool our ever growing computation needs seems like something out of a Sci-Fi novel.
Microsoft's latest splash in the computing world came in August of 2015 when it launched a test of the first underwater data center. The endeavor known as Project Natick took 10' x 7' watertight container the Leona Philpot, named after a character in the company's wildly popular Halovideo game, andset it off the coast of California. Project Natick began when Microsoft employee Sean James, who served on a US Navy submarine, proposed placing computers underwater. Mr. James idea caught the attention of Norm Whitaker, currently managing director of Microsoft Research New Experiences and Technologies, or NExT. Mr. Whitaker along with colleagues Spencer Fowers, Eric Peterson, Ben Cutler and Jeff Kramer are the team that took on the task.
In August of 2014 the Project Natick team began construction of what would be the world's first underwater 'cloud'. One year later the Leona Philpotis ceremoniously deployed into the Pacific about 100 Km offshore. Remaining under water until November of 2015, the vessel was closely monitored and according to research performed extremely well. There were no leaks into the container and video evidence suggests that nearby underwater life adapted rather quickly to the foreign object. This one of a kind apparatus uses fully recyclable materials, with the intention of harnessing tidal power created by the water to provide energy and using the ocean's temperature as a coolant. Data centers current construction period is 2 years from inception to completion, an eternity in today's technological world. Their space and energy requirements often dictate they be placed in open areas which serves to increase latency, the time it takes for data to travel between sources. Microsoft expects that it could produce underwater data centers similar to the Leona Philpotin a 90 day period and they can last about 5 years. It is currently exploring the possibility of coupling the data center with a turbine that could potentially make the system self sustaining. The company suggests that if the concept becomes proven over time, this could turn into a mass production item to fit a variety of installments.An estimated half of the world's population lives within 120 miles of the coast and the potential of bringing data centers closer to their users seems like a very viable prospect.
Microsoft's successful trial of an underwater data center represents an exciting new possibility as one solution to an ever growing demand for computer power. The environmental repercussions are unknown and what other impacts these products may have are widely undetermined. At this point Project Natick is entirely in the research phase and striving to create a bigger, better product for further testing. While practical applications will determine whether these underwater projects are viable in today's market, the potential possibilities leave you wondering what could be next.