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Microsoft project natickMicrosoft has released details of a new pilot project for an undersea datacentre designed to cut power costs with free water cooling.

Project Natick, which connects the undersea module using giant steel tubes linked by fibre optic cables, could also use turbines to convert tides and currents into electricity to power the computing and comms equipment. The new sea bed data centres could also improve cloud response times for users living near the coast.

A prototype was placed on the sea bed off the coast of California in August 2015 as art of an investigation into the environmental and technical issues involved in this form of low power cloud service. Microsoft researchers believe that economies of scale through mass production would cut deployment time from two years to 90 days. The project is the latest initiative from Microsoft Research’s New Experiences and Technologies (NExT) which began investigating new ways to power cloud computing in 2014.

In the 105 day trial an eight foot wide steel capsule was placed 30 feet underwater in the Pacific Ocean near San Luis Obispo, California. The underwater system had 100 sensors to measure pressure, humidity, motion and other conditions but the system stayed up, which encouraged Microsoft to extend the experiment to run data-processing projects from Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service.

In the next stage of the research, Microsoft said, it will create an underwater data centre system that will be three times as large. This will be built in partnership with an alternative energy vendor. The identity of the trial partner has yet to be decided, but the launch date is mooted for 2017 at a venue either in Florida or Northern Europe, where hydro power is more advanced.

This “refactoring” of traditional methods will help fuel other innovations even if it doesn’t accomplish its goal of establishing underwater data farms, according to Norman Whitaker, MD for special projects at Microsoft Research and the former deputy director at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “The idea with refactoring is that it tickles a whole bunch of things at the same time,” said Whitaker.

Microsoft manages more than 100 data centres around the globe and is adding always looking for new venues to support its raid expansion. The company has spent more than $15 billion on a global datacentre system that now provides more than 200 online services.

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