Microsoft trials underwater DCs to supply coastal cities with fast cloud services

Microsoft is testing an underwater datacentre in Scotland’s Orkney Islands to deliver cloud services to nearby coastal cities as part of its Project Natick, a research project to investigate manufacturing and operating environmentally sustainable datacentres.

According to Microsoft, the purpose of the project is to build and operate containerised datacentres offshore near major population centres. “This creates a shorter distance for data to travel, leading to faster and smoother web surfing, video streaming and game playing as well as authentic experiences for AI-driven technologies,” it added.

The Project Natick team will spend the next 12 months monitoring and recording the performance of the datacentre as well as its overall power onsumption, to gauge its overall economic and environmental viability.Ultimately, the goal is to devise prepackaged datacenter units that can be ordered to size, quickly rolled out and left to operate lights on the seafloor for years

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“That is kind of a crazy set of demands to make,” said Peter Lee, corporate VP of Microsoft AI and Research, who heads the New Experiences and Technologies, or NExT, group. “Natick is trying to get there.”

Lee’s group pursues what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has dubbed ‘relevant moonshots’ with the potential to transform the core of Microsoft’s business and the computer technology industry.

“For true delivery of AI, we are really cloud dependent today,” said Lee. “If we can be within one internet hop of everyone, then it not only benefits our products, but also the products our customers serve.”

Microsoft noted that More than half of the world’s population lives within about 120 miles of the coast.

“By putting datacenters in bodies of water near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel to reach coastal communities, leading to fast and smooth web surfing, video streaming and game playing as well as authentic experiences for AI-driven technologies,” it said.