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Infrastructure: Advantages of Submerged Offshore Data Centers

By Dick Weisinger

Microsoft recently ended a two year experiment called ‘Project Natick‘ that dropped a shipping container loaded up as a mini-data center with 900 servers installed on 12 racks. The container was connected to a fiber-optic cable and powered by renewable energy.

Ben Cutler, who leads Project Natick at Microsoft, said that “our failure rate in the water is one-eighth of what we see on land. I have an economic model that says if I lose so many servers per unit of time, I’m at least parity with land. We are considerably better than that.”

Keeping the servers underwater has advantages. The nitrogen atmosphere is less corrosive than oxygen. In the isolated environment there are no people to disturb any of the servers or devices.

Spencer Fowers, the technical lead for Project Natick, said that “as we are moving from generic cloud computing to cloud and edge computing, we are seeing more and more need to have smaller data centers located closer to customers instead of these large warehouse data centers out in the middle of nowhere.”

Future experiments plan to try to power the underwater data centers using co-located ocean-based green power, like wind or tidal turbines.

William Chappell, vice president at Microsoft Azure, said that “the fact that they were very quickly able to deploy it and it has worked as long as it has and it has the level of encryption on the signals going to it combine to tell a pretty compelling vision of the future. To learn how to make data centers reliable enough not to need human touch is a dream of ours.”

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