Can Cloud Computing Services Breathe Underwater?

Strange question, isn’t it? We are talking about possibility of the day when Data Centers will operate underwater.
Microsoft's Underwater Cloud Project

Sounds almost like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? When we think cloud, we think of something that is above us, mobile and up in the air. We relate to cloud data centers as being on puffs of clouds hovering over us. The idea is almost contradictory when we think of these clouds moving underwater. Funny thought, isn’t it?

Odd as that might seem, Microsoft is out to understand the dynamics of having these cloud data centers underwater. The answer they seek? Can the ocean effectively serve as a natural cooling system for cloud data centers?

Microsoft conducted research between August and November of last year to test the feasibility of this theory. We all know that typically, electronics and water don’t mix. The tech giant pushed this theory to the edge when they tested the viability of submerging sealed computing equipment – a test data center – off the Caly Poly Pier in Avila Beach.

According to

“The company wanted to know if the ocean can effectively serve as a cooling system for data centers, referred to as cloud servers, that transmit video streams, social networking, email and other digital communications. A 38,000-pound container protected the technology from the ocean elements. The cloud server contained computing power equivalent to 300 desktop computers.”

Project Natick

Microsoft is calling its research project “Project Natick”. Project Natick consists of a submerged 10-foot by 7-foot capsule. This capsule was submerged about 30 feet underwater for a period of 105 days. Even the capsule was given a name by Microsoft. Called the “Leona Philpot,” a big thumbs up to the character in the company’s video game – Halo. You Halo players may find this choice of character somewhat ironic.

Project Natick

A New York Times article was quoted as saying:

“Putting the gear under cold ocean water could fix the problem. It may also answer the exponentially growing energy demands of the computing world because Microsoft is considering pairing the system either with a turbine or a tidal energy system to generate electricity.”

An Answer to Growing Energy Demands?

If this works, we could be looking at an answer to the world’s growing energy demands for the computing world. Data center operations generate substantial amounts of heat and for this reason require air conditioning to prevent system crashes. If Microsoft manages to harness the ocean’s cooling to work as a natural air conditioning unit, we are looking at reducing costs on a large scale.

However, Microsoft declined to answer any questions regarding its future plans with this project. Will Microsoft consider a permanent infrastructure? Will it at least continue its research?

This was said to be Microsoft’s largest-ever project outside its premises. Microsoft certainly believes this is the future of cloud-based data centers. Why? According to Microsoft, half of the world’s population live near coastal waters. Successfully implementing data centers underwater would mean an increase in speed of data transmission to users. It would also enable a rapid response, a continued and quick deployment during natural disasters and a steady transmission of data during special events such as the World Cup.

Microsoft believes that Project Natick is still at its nascent stage. We need to wait and watch to see where Microsoft will go with this project. And if it is successful, will Microsoft and other cloud-based providers adopt it?


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