Delving into the deep with underwater data centres

Underwater data centres hold immense promise as a sustainable and efficient solution for data storage and processing

The rapid growth of the digital world has brought about a surge in demand for data centres. These facilities that house and manage the vast amounts of information we generate and consume daily play a crucial role in enabling our digital lives, but their energy consumption is becoming an increasingly pressing concern.

DCs are among the most energy-intensive buildings, consuming anywhere from 1% to 3% of global electricity. This massive energy demand stems from the power-hungry nature of servers. Servers operate continuously, generating significant heat that requires extensive cooling systems to maintain optimal performance. As well as this, the supporting infrastructure of DCs, including lighting, ventilation, and security systems, further contributes to their overall energy consumption.

The impact of data centre energy consumption

The energy consumption of data centres has far-reaching implications, impacting not only the environment but also the stability and resilience of our power grids. Various strategies have been developed to enhance efficiency, ranging from minimising the CPU usage of idle servers to locating DCs in regions with lower reliance on artificial cooling and modifying the architecture of equipment-housing buildings. However, despite these efforts, it is projected that these measures may only result in a roughly 10% reduction in energy consumption.

In 2015, Microsoft embarked on a groundbreaking experiment known as Project Natick, which was to explore the feasibility of underwater DCs. Driven by the relentless growth of data and the associated energy demands of traditional data centres, Microsoft sought to harness the unique advantages of the underwater environment to revolutionise DC infrastructure.

The cornerstone of Project Natick was the deployment of a self-contained DC, codenamed Leona, off the coast of California. Nestled 33 feet below the ocean's surface, the DC housed a server rack capable of processing and storing vast amounts of data.

Inspired by Microsoft's success, several smaller companies have emerged, eager to capitalise on the potential of underwater DCs. These enterprises developed their own underwater DC concepts, aiming to provide scalable and sustainable solutions for the ever-growing data storage needs.

The benefits of underwater data centres

Underwater data centres offer a compelling advantage in their strategic positioning near densely populated coastal areas. With approximately half of the world's population residing within 125 miles of the shoreline, establishing DCs in close proximity to these areas would allow for lower latency, which refers to the time it takes for data to travel between two points and more efficient handling of data.

One of the most compelling factors in favour of deep-sea data centres is the elimination of cooling costs. Unlike their land-based counterparts which rely on energy-intensive mechanical cooling systems, deep-sea data centres can leverage the ocean's inherent cooling capacity, effectively eliminating the need for active cooling systems.

The potential downsides

However, while underwater DCs have their advantages, accessibility is a potential issue, particularly when situated in deep waters or areas prone to rough conditions. Even with redundant systems designed to minimise downtime, underwater DCs will still require periodic retrieval for maintenance and replacement of faulty servers and components.

As well as this, the fluctuation of water temperatures presents a potential challenge in maintaining consistent cooling for servers. Marine heat waves, characterised by elevated water temperatures that can last for extended periods, pose a significant concern, as these events can disrupt the effectiveness of traditional seawater-based cooling systems, potentially leading to server overheating and performance degradation.

Overall, the emergence of underwater data centres represents a shift in DC infrastructure, offering a promising alternative to traditional land-based facilities. By harnessing the unique advantages of the underwater environment, DCs have the potential to completely change the way we manage and store data, paving the way for a more sustainable and efficient digital future.

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For more insights into the world of Data Centre - check out the latest edition of Data Centre Magazine and be sure to follow us on LinkedIn & Twitter.

Other magazines that may be of interest - Mobile Magazine.

Please also check out our upcoming event - Sustainability LIVE Net Zero on 6 and 7 March 2024.  

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