Microsoft declares its underwater data center test was a success

The <em>Northern Isles</em>, a 12-rack / 864-server underwater data center pod, is winched off the seafloor in this picture after its two-year trial deployment.
Enlarge / The Northern Isles, a 12-rack / 864-server underwater data center pod, is winched off the seafloor on this image after its two-year trial deployment.

Microsoft retrieved a 40-foot-long, 12-rack, self-contained underwater data center from its seafloor residence offshore from the Orkney Islands earlier this summer season.

The retrieval of the Northern Isles started the ultimate part of Microsoft’s Project Natick analysis initiative, exploring the idea of deploying sealed server pods simply offshore main inhabitants facilities as a substitute for conventional onshore data facilities.

Why put servers underwater?

Project Natick has been underway for a number of years; we coated the two-month trial deployment of Leona Philpot, the corporate’s first underwater server pod, in 2016, and the deployment of the newly retrieved Orkney Isles pod in 2018.

The potential drawback of sealed underwater “data centers” is clear—they have to be extraordinarily dependable, since they cannot be serviced on a common foundation. There is a considerably much less intuitive, counterbalancing benefit, after all—they haven’t any pesky people wandering round inside them, probably dislodging cables, unplugging issues, or in any other case injecting chaos.

There are extra benefits to those miniature underwater data facilities. Seafloor-based pods do not require costly business actual property, and so they get practically free cooling from the encircling tons of seawater.

The logistic benefit could also be much more essential than the cooling or instant monetary one. It takes vital time and specialised effort to amass and develop business actual property for a conventional data center in a main metropolis—constructing a sealed pod and deploying it on the seafloor close by needs to be significantly less complicated and sooner.

Retrieving the Northern Isles

The Northern Isles underwater data center pod was constructed by Naval Group (a protection and renewable marine vitality contractor) and regionally supported by Green Marine, an Orkney Island-based marine engineering and operations agency. It spent two years beneath the water on the European Marine Energy Centre, the place tidal currents peak at 9mph and storm waves attain 60 toes or extra.

Both deployment and retrieval of the Northern Isles wanted significantly calm climate and a full day of cautious work involving robots and winches between the pontoons of a gantry barge. In the course of the pod’s two years underwater, it acquired a coating of algae and barnacles, in addition to cantaloupe-sized sea anemones colonizing sheltered nooks in its base.

Analyzing the outcomes

The entire 12-rack, 864-server data center is slid from the hull of the <em>Northern Isles</em> as a unit, after preliminary <em>in situ</em> analysis.
Enlarge / The whole 12-rack, 864-server data center is slid from the hull of the Northern Isles as a unit, after preliminary in situ evaluation.

Jonathan Banks

Before sliding the 12-rack, 864-server data center unit out of the pod’s hull, Microsoft’s researchers took inside air samples from the still-sealed pod for evaluation in Redmond. “We left it filled with dry nitrogen, so the environment is pretty benign in there,” Microsoft Special Projects researcher Spencer Fowers stated. Analysis of the air after the two-year deployment will give the staff further details about cable and different tools outgassing.

The servers deployed aboard the Northern Isles failed at a price roughly one-eighth what specialists would anticipate from the identical servers in a conventional, human-serviced data center over the identical interval. Microsoft’s staff hypothesizes that is partly because of the sealed, inert nitrogen ambiance the pod was pressurized with earlier than deployment.

Without any oxygen for human technicians to breathe or extreme humidity for his or her consolation, there are fewer alternatives for chemical corruption of parts. Lack of bumping and jostling by those self same human operators doubtless additionally contributed to the servers’ unusually low failure price.

Sustainability and effectivity

Windmills like this one provide 100 percent of the electricity grid which services residents of the Orkney Islands—a cable from that grid also supplied power to the <em>Northern Isles</em>, in addition to tidal turbines and wave energy converters.
Enlarge / Windmills like this one present one hundred pc of the electrical energy grid which providers residents of the Orkney Islands—a cable from that grid additionally equipped energy to the Northern Isles, along with tidal generators and wave vitality converters.

Scott Eklund

The profitable two-year deployment of the Northern Isles demonstrates the feasibility of greener, extra sustainable energy initiatives for data facilities, above and past the effectivity of cooling the data center itself.

One cause the Project Natick staff deployed the Northern Isles to the Orkney Islands is as a result of its grid is equipped one hundred pc by wind, photo voltaic, and experimental inexperienced applied sciences beneath improvement on the European Marine Energy Centre itself. “We have been able to run really well on what most land-based datacenters consider an unreliable grid,” Fowers stated.

Ben Cutler, a challenge supervisor for Project Natick, believes that co-located offshore wind farms might viably energy manufacturing deployments much like the Northern Isles. Even gentle wind situations would doubtless be sufficient to energy the pods, with a shore powerline bundled in with the pod’s fiber-optic data cabling as a final resort. Cutler additionally notes that the seawater cooling for such deployments is not simply cheaper than conventional cooling—it leaves freshwater assets important to people and wildlife untapped.

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