Microsoft Trials Underwater Data Centre

Submarine servers sunk off Seattle, Project Natick could bring cloud closer to cities

Microsoft has tested an underwater data centre that it says could reduce cloud latency by being placed close to heavily populated areas near coastlines.

Dubbed Project Natick, Microsoft constructed a capsule with a rack of servers inside and sunk it to the seabed off the coast of Seattle

Microsoft’s reasoning for Project Natick is that up to 50 percent of the world’s population lives near the coast, so why not bring the data to them.


“Project Natick seeks to understand the benefits and difficulties in deploying subsea data centres worldwide. We did so by designing, building, and deploying our own subsea data centre in the ocean, all in about a year,” said Microsoft.

data centreThe experiment was hatched in 2013 when an ex-US Navy submariner who now works at Microsoft submitted a paper analysing the potential of underwater data centres. In late 2014, Microsoft started work on Project Natick.

Whilst the capsule, called Leona Philpot (a Halo character reference), only contains a test rack of servers, it was sunk 30 feet off California for four months in 2015, said Microsoft.

According to the New York Times, Microsoft is now ready to push the research of Project Natic forward by building larger capsules that could successfully house Microsoft cloud services such as Azure and Office 365.

Placing data centres underwater would also solve the problem of cooling the servers, and Microsoft wants to hook the capsules up to wind turbines or tidal energy systems to generate power.

Powered by renewable energy, Microsoft said that in the future the capsules could stay underwater without the need for engineers for up to 20 years.

“Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud data centre solutions that offer rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and are more environmentally sustainable,” Microsoft said on the Project Natick website.

Microsoft also dispelled worries about how Project Natick could affect the local sealife. “During our deployment of the Leona Philpot vessel, sea life in the local vicinity quickly adapted to the presence of the vessel,” Microsoft said. Long-term risks to the environment are not yet known, but the potential for energy saving could be huge.

Main image: The Natick Team: Eric Peterson, Spencer Fowers, Norm Whitaker, Ben Cutler, Jeff Kramer. (left to right).

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