On Monday, the American company Microsoft had announced that its underwater Northern Isles data center has one more time risen from the ocean depth and it is remarkably intact other than being covered in sea scum.
Back in 2018, the company had sunk the data center under 117 feet of water off the coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands, it looks like a large, airtight fuel tank. After staying two years inside the water, now it is completely covered in barnacles, cantaloupe-sized sea anemones, and algae. However, according to the Microsoft Special Projects researcher Spencer Fowers, it was pretty much impressive to see the lack of “hardened marine growth.”
Inside, 864 servers, along with 27.6 petabytes of collective storage and cooling infrastructure endured the elements in an atmosphere of inert gas, with Microsoft noting that the conditions European Marine Energy Centre test site can accommodate nine miles per hour tidal currents and 60-foot waves during storms.
In fact, the tech giant claimed the equipment performed better than land-based systems. Project Natick leader Ben Cutler said in a blog post that Northern Isles witnessed failure rates just one-eighth what would ideally have been in a traditional data center and that it ran “really well” on the region’s energy grid, which is a hundred percent wind and solar.
The Verdict report of 2018 that the possible environmental impact of underwater data centers is yet not known, one unit may have a negligible impact on local temperature, but masses of them might have noticeable effects on sea life.
The 2018 verdict indicated that the potential environmental impact of underwater data centers is not clear. While one unit may have a negligible impact on the local temperature, masses of them are highly likely to have a considerable impact on sea life.
“Whilst there may be substantial benefits for companies such as Microsoft in transferring data storage systems offshore, the effects of any structure placed in the marine environment, especially one that generates substantial heat locally, would have to be investigated,” University of Portsmouth marine ecologist Gordon Watson said in an interview with the Verdict. He went on to suggest that it is imperative to assess any site for environmental impact.
“It is not as easy (at least in countries where they have advanced marine planning legislation) as just sticking something on the seabed and retrieving it five years later,” Watson added. Aside from that, there is the problem of diminishing returns.
In an interview with Wired in 2018, Leeds Beckett University School of Computing, Creative Technologies, and Engineering dean Colin Pattinson said underwater data centers are worth giving a try, efficiency gains for minimizing power requirements are decreasing over time. Pattinson said they are trying to get more savings out of the same basic tech.