Are Underwater Data Centres The Future?
18 March, 2016
The massive data centres required to power the Internet comprise of countless racks of servers that generate massive amounts of heat. Any company operating with a large scale data centre is always looking for the most cost effective method in which to keep it cool. It’s this need which has led to Microsoft developing a data centre located on the ocean floor.
An underwater design has been touted as the next big thing for a while – they have been described as the perfect alternative to large land-based data centres that consume endless amounts of power simply to keep a stable temperature. The concept of a watery location was first assessed by Microsoft in 2013. Just three years later the software company has confirmed live tests have recently taken place. In order to assess viability, Microsoft engineers placed a server rack with power equivalent to around 300 PCs in a watertight metal cylinder. It was then lowered into the ocean off the coast of central California.
There are two main advantages to an underwater data centre. Firstly, the temperature at the bottom of the ocean is cold enough that there is no requirement for a cooling system. This means that power costs are dramatically reduced. Secondly, the ocean location means tidal force can be used to generate the electricity needed to power the centre. These two features alone have a huge impact on maintenance costs.
The Microsoft project was such a success that it actually ran for 75 days longer than originally planned and was used for actual customer workloads. This success demonstrates that a water-based set-up is a genuine alternative to the current land-based behemoths. It’s not clear exactly when underwater data centres will be perfected but Microsoft is making in-roads and doesn’t appear to want to give them up. In fact, the company has more advanced tests planned in the near future.
In many ways the project makes a lot of sense, over and above being a way to power centres and maintain cooler temperatures. 50% of the world’s population is located within 200km of the sea. This means that underwater data centres could mean faster internet speeds. Latency means that the further you are away from servers the slower they are, therefore 50% of the world’s population would benefit from faster internet speeds just because of their proximity to the water.
Underwater centres also have production benefits. Large data centres can take up to two years to be completed. This is almost an eternity in the tech sector. Unlike conventional solutions, underwater centres could be manufactured on an assembly line before being placed in the ocean. This could mean that a whole data centre could be conceived, developed and installed in 90 days.
With more cloud growth expected over the coming years, most industry experts believe that there is a requirement for massive numbers of data centres to be developed. The theoretical benefits of an underwater data centre are clear to see but whether these can actually become the future of data centres depends on the next round of testing by Microsoft. We’ll keep you posted.