Tuesday, September 15th 2020

Microsoft Underwater Data Center Initiative Project Natick Declared a Success After Two Years

Microsoft has announced it considers the result of its underwater data center initiative, named Project Natick, a success. This announcement comes after Microsoft recovered its data center capsule from the seafloor alongside the Orkney Islands after a two-year-long deployment. The self-contained server pod (made up of 12 racks and 864 servers) was filled with nitrogen, and achieved a much lower failure rate - component-wise - compared to traditional onshore data centers. In fact, its failure rate was one-eight that of traditional servers. The absence of oxygen and lower humidity levels (no need to keep air comfortable and breathable for human technicians) may have been deciding factors in this failure rate.

There are some obvious advantages from such an offshore server deployment. For one, all that cold water really helps in cooling down the components inside - there's no need for added expense in cooling solutions. There is also no need for land acquisition or infrastructure development that's typically associated with onshore server sites. The fact that Project Natick was fully powered by renewable energy sources, courtesy of the Orkneys' grid - supplied 100 percent by wind, solar, and experimental green technologies under development at the European Marine Energy Centre. considering its success, it can certainly be expected that Microsoft - and other companies - double down on this type of server deployment.
Source: Ars Technica
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26 Comments on Microsoft Underwater Data Center Initiative Project Natick Declared a Success After Two Years

#1
Basard
Weird. Why not just use Canada? It's cold up there too....
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#2
the54thvoid
Hmm. A giant immersion heater for the water.
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#3
EarthDog
I don't think the point of this was location, but a POC that this works.

As someone who was certified to design data centers, this is pretty cool!!!
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#4
TheLostSwede
Basard
Weird. Why not just use Canada? It's cold up there too....
Government grants might have something to do with it?
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#5
Assimilator
I'd be really interested to see the cost/benefit analysis of this. Seems like a clever idea that's unlikely to be economically competitive in the long run, even with lowered failure rates.
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#6
AnarchoPrimitiv
What would be really cool is if they were able to use power generation from waves or some other source so that it didn't require outside power and was completely "off the grid" with the exception of data communications
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#7
EarthDog
Assimilator
I'd be really interested to see the cost/benefit analysis of this. Seems like a clever idea that's unlikely to be economically competitive in the long run, even with lowered failure rates.
The biggest cost saver here is the free cooling. At scale it makes complete sense. If they could get free power by the waves/wind that would be impressive (though I am not sure how that would work with all the power a typical DC requires).

I'm also concerned with constantly dumping 10s of thousands of watts into the ocean that is already warming.....but that is another story.
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#8
Flanker
When it does need a human technician for maintenance, that will be a major pain no?
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#9
EarthDog
Could be. Theres a difference between opening up a data center door versus a boat to bring the thing up and then have techs work on it. That said there are already a lot of redundancies built in so maintenence isn't typically often.
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#10
Assimilator
Flanker
When it does need a human technician for maintenance, that will be a major pain no?
The whole point is that it doesn't.
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#12
Prima.Vera
How do you upgrade the servers for example??
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#13
jimmyxxx
Have they made any studies as to how the heat output of this datacenters will affect the quality of the water and the habitat of the surrounding species?
Maybe 1 server will not be enough, but multiple could be a challenge for environment certifications.
I guess one way could be creating artificial lakes for this type of projects.
Prima.Vera
How do you upgrade the servers for example??
like upgrading a satellite, send a new one into orbit.
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#14
EarthDog
Prima.Vera
How do you upgrade the servers for example??
just take the container out and put new hardware in............. product lifecycle in most data centers is a couple/few years. if you need something different, down goes another tube with newer hardware.
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#15
mahirzukic2
Prima.Vera
How do you upgrade the servers for example??
See the previous answer above.
Assimilator
The whole point is that it doesn't.
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#16
InVasMani
Basard
Weird. Why not just use Canada? It's cold up there too....
Same reason they don't do it in America disloyalty and tax loopholes obviously.
Prima.Vera
How do you upgrade the servers for example??
Far as I can tell you don't you plan to run it til it's more or less obsolete and replace it with a new system to run the same way. Fortunately the cooling extends power and efficiency life cycle of the system while reducing cooling costs.
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#17
Manoa
you can do nitrogen on the surface too, just give technicians hazmat with air, renew energy also no problem :)
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#18
bug
Yeah, it's all peachy. Installing that is comparable to installing a traditional data center and servicing it isn't much more difficult either. /s
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#19
Franzen4Real
EarthDog
I'm also concerned with constantly dumping 10s of thousands of watts into the ocean that is already warming.....but that is another story.
jimmyxxx
Have they made any studies as to how the heat output of this datacenters will affect the quality of the water and the habitat of the surrounding species?
Maybe 1 server will not be enough, but multiple could be a challenge for environment certifications.
Looks like the vessel is monitoring and studying the effects of itself on the surrounding environment.

azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/monitoring-environmental-conditions-near-underwater-datacenters-using-deep-learning/
EarthDog
If they could get free power by the waves/wind that would be impressive (though I am not sure how that would work with all the power a typical DC requires).
Phase 2 (what they finished) was done with 100% renewable energy. There were some interesting articles and FAQ's here:

natick.research.microsoft.com/
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#20
pjl321
EarthDog
I'm also concerned with constantly dumping 10s of thousands of watts into the ocean that is already warming.....but that is another story.
In the winter in my 25-30 degree Celsius house my computer consumes around 700w, when I put my PC outside in the 0c temp it consumes around 550w. The power reduction from keeping every cool (for free) would massive reduce the amount of heat we are dumping into the world so it will only improve things with regards to this.
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#21
EarthDog
pjl321
In the winter in my 25-30 degree Celsius house my computer consumes around 700w, when I put my PC outside in the 0c temp it consumes around 550w. The power reduction from keeping every cool (for free) would massive reduce the amount of heat we are dumping into the world so it will only improve things with regards to this.
I can't imagine inefficiences to be that much... 150W more? No. Something else is different bud.
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#22
pjl321
jimmyxxx
Have they made any studies as to how the heat output of this datacenters will affect the quality of the water and the habitat of the surrounding species?
Maybe 1 server will not be enough, but multiple could be a challenge for environment certifications.
I guess one way could be creating artificial lakes for this type of projects.
Water is exceptionally good at dissipating heat, plus it has such a high specific heat capacity that I am not sure even large data centres would make much of a difference to the water temp once you move a few meters away from it. It wouldn't be close to the kind of heat out put we see from things like thermal vent and they hardly heat the water at all but are a good source of energy for marine life.

The most important thing to remember here is that something like 50% of the energy used in data centres is to cool the data centres. If this means we cut our power used in half then that's a massive win for global sea temps.
EarthDog
I can't imagine inefficiences to be that much... 150W more? No. Something else is different bud.
It was a few years ago but almost certain they were the numbers.
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#23
EarthDog
pjl321
It was a few years ago but almost certain they were the numbers.
It isn't nearly that big of a difference. Those values are off.
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#24
pjl321
EarthDog
It isn't nearly that big of a difference. Those values are off.
Bear in mind the CPU and GPUs temps went from 80-90c to 20-30c.
But as I say, it was a few years ago so maybe I am remembering it wrong.
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#25
EarthDog
pjl321
Bear in mind the CPU and GPUs temps went from 80-90c to 20-30c.
Doesn't matter. ;)
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