The cloud has led Microsoft’s rebound; Azure, its rival to Amazon Web Services, grew sales 93% year-over-year in the latest quarter. Now Microsoft is trying to make a new splash. Last week, it dropped a data center to the ocean floor. The sealed shipping-container-size tube contains 864 servers and now rests 117 feet beneath the sea off the coast of northern Scotland.
Microsoft lists a long list of potential benefits for its experiment, code-named Project Natick, including the fact that it’s a cold ocean out there, which addresses a major data-center power need: They run hot.
Designed to work for five years without maintenance, the tube’s atmosphere is scrubbed of oxygen and water vapor, reducing server corrosion and failure rates. They can be made to order, assembled, and tested in a data-center factory, then shipped or towed to sea. The company hopes to deploy underwater data centers in less than 90 days, down from two years for land-based data centers. “Project Natick is an out-of-the-box idea to accommodate exponential growth in demand for cloud computing infrastructure near population centers,” Microsoft said in a blog post.
Microsoft notes more than half the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the ocean, so offshore data centers can be located closer to customers, reducing latency. The tube is powered by onshore wind farms, but one day, Microsoft sees generating power from tides or waves. It will monitor viability over the next year before deciding whether to deploy another—or sink the project.
Meanwhile on dry land, Microsoft is healthily occupied with mainland issues such as HoloLens production and fighting off the California new privacy act.
Since HoloLens was first released almost three years ago, Microsoft has steadily been building partnerships and demonstrating an array of industry use cases across manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, education and many others.
As for the California Consumer Policy Act, in recent weeks, Amazon, Microsoft, and Uber have all made substantial contributions to a group campaigning against the initiative, according to state disclosure records.