Microsoft experimenting with high-tech, underwater data centers to beat the heat

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Feb 2, 2016

The world runs on computers, but anyone who has ever had their legs scorched by a 110-degree laptop knows that tech puts off some major heat. Now the folks at Microsoft are thinking outside (and under) the box to keep those ultra-hot data centers chilled.

According to The New York Times, Microsoft has tested a prototype of a self-contained data center capable of operating hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean. The idea is to eliminate the extremely expensive air conditioning bills, by installing the data center at a depth where it’s already really, really cold. Heat crashes the servers, and having that icy cold water around them should avoid that problem.

“When I first heard about this I thought, ‘Water ... electricity, why would you do that?’ ” Ben Cutler, a Microsoft engineer who worked on the Project Natick system, told The New York Times. “But as you think more about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.”

Even better? The tech company is also considering a design that uses a turbine or tidal energy system to generate the electricity that powers the servers. So the deep-water concept could solve both problems at once. The initiative is dubbed Project Natick, and Microsoft is considering linking it all up with fiber optic cables on the sea floor, or suspended containers placed underwater at a certain depth.

The first test capsule performed well, though Microsoft has to make sure the tech is safe and stable (and sturdy) before considering a wider rollout. Because once it’s down there, it’s obviously not as simple as just calling in the IT guy when something goes awry.

But it's a fascinating idea, and the most unorthodox solution could prove to be the most viable.


(Via The New York Times)