Microsoft's throwing its servers in the sea to keep them cool

Microsoft’s effort to build underwater datacenter reaches next phase

Microsoft puts data centre under the sea to test efficiency

12 months after launching Project Natick in July 2014, Microsoft deployed a lab-built proof-of-concept prototype in calm, shallow waters off California.

The Orkney Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland, have a reputation as a centre of renewable energy development and progress, and Cindy Rose, Microsoft's United Kingdom chief executive, expressed her happiness that the project is taking place in the UK.

The Northern Isles data center consists of a 40-foot (12.2 metre) long white cylinder containing 864 servers - enough to store five million movies - and can lie on the seabed for up to five years. Cooling is a major cost in any large-scale computing operation, so the ocean's naturally low temperatures reduce the money and energy needed to maintain the servers that connect other computers to the internet.

Since there are no people in the cylinder, all the oxygen and most of the water vapour can be removed from it. These data center can deliver quick cloud services to coastal cities. But it also means that it is not possible to fix the servers if any components break.

Microsoft worked with the 400-year-old Naval Group from France to create the submarine container for the data center, and said the ocean water provided a number of benefits for sustainable energy use.

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"We've got so much renewable energy here", says EMEC managing director Neil Kermode.

Microsoft is doing something that sounds very unusual at first glance; it has taken a fully functional data center and sunk it into the dark ocean depths. By running the data centre underwater, Microsoft hopes to save energy on cooling the structure. Interestingly, 100 percent of the region's energy already comes from renewable sources, thanks to wind turbines, solar panels and more experimental sources such as tidal turbines and wave energy converters.

Orkney was chosen as an ideal location for the data centre given its rough seas and experience in offshore renewables. The undersea cable was developed by the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), a Microsoft partner in the project. This is a lot smaller than the conventional data centers that can cover the enter distance of a football field, some 300-feet.

One way to do this is by placing them underwater near coasts, according to Microsoft, as more than half of the world's population live within 120 miles of a shoreline.

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