Microsoft retrieves Project Natick from the North Sea
In the Spring of 2018, Microsoft embarked upon an unusual project. A division of engineers and scientists under the name of , hauled a watertight shipping container out to sea, off the coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands and dropped it to the bottom of the ocean.
Inside the sealed container: a state of the art micro data centre. Project Natick’s data centre has spent the past two years gathering barnacles and algae on the ocean floor for the past two years. Earlier this summer, , it finally saw the sunlight again.
Image by Jonathan Banks, courtesy of Microsoft Corporation
The retrieval marks the final stage in a project to prove the feasibility of underwater data centres. The results, Microsoft reveals, prove that the concept of underwater data centres is not only feasible, but logistically, environmentally and economically practical.
More than 50% of the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the coast. The ability to place data centres underwater in coastal regions would ensure increased local connectivity. The ocean floor is also a consistent and cheap source of empty real estate, at a time when land prices are spiking around the world.
Most importantly, however, the consistently low temperatures under the sea would allow underwater data centres to take energy efficient cooling to a new level. Microsoft notes that such facilities could “leverage heat-exchange plumbing such as that found on submarines.”
“We are now at the point of trying to harness what we have done as opposed to feeling the need to go and prove out some more,” Cutler added. “We have done what we need to do. Natick is a key building block for the company to use if it is appropriate.”
It's undetermined how Microsoft will use this newly proven technology, but the company has said that the next step in its adoption depends on the potential to scale up underwater data centres, with the eventual goal of supporting the full suite of Microsoft Azure cloud services using a network of containers the size of the Orkney facility.
“As we are moving from generic cloud computing to cloud and edge computing, we are seeing more and more need to have smaller datacenters located closer to customers instead of these large warehouse datacenters out in the middle of nowhere,” said , a principal member of technical staff for Microsoft’s Special Projects research group.
Sustainability and PUE reduction in data centres
The data centre industry is at a crossroads. As demand for colocation, hyperscale cloud, and edge solutions continues to rise, operators and enterprises are also facing up to the reality that sustainable design and operating practice are a mission critical component of the modern data centre. Going green is no longer an optional extra.
Data centres are becoming an increasingly critical foundation that underpins the modern world, and the demand for them continues to grow exponentially each year. Data centres must remain in constant operation in order to provide the services for which customers depend on them.
This mission critical need, combined with the sector-wide push towards reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint throughout the industry, is making the search for innovative evaporative media solutions that keep systems running at peak efficiency an equally mission critical priority.
The two main sources of energy consumption in a modern data centre are its IT equipment and the cooling infrastructure used to keep that equipment cool. A 2017 study found that energy consumption as the direct result of cooling data centre IT equipment can amount to over 40% of the total energy consumption in a facility. From air cooling to liquid and evaporative chillers, data centre operators, finding the right cooling solution for your facility is a top-of-mind goal for any data centre operator.
Portacool: keeping it Kuul
Based in Center, Texas, Portacool is a portable evaporative cooling solutions firm that has been pushing the boundaries of mission critical infrastructure cooling technology since it entered the market in 1990.
Through constant embodiment of its five brand pillars - Safety & Liability, Total Cost of Ownership, Productivity & Performance, Sustainability & Social Responsibility, and Life & Comfort Enhancing Solutions - Portacool has grown steadily over the past 30 years, continually reinforcing its reputation for industry-leading cooling solutions.
Portacool’s solutions have been successfully applied throughout the agricultural and horticultural, manufacturing, industrial, business, entertainment, sports, home, and hobby industries - “anywhere cooling is needed and traditional air conditioning is impractical or cost prohibitive.”
The company’s sub-brand, Kuul, is Portacool’s answer to the growing need for reliable, sustainable cooling solutions in the data centre sector. Portacool manufactures three series of evaporative media – Kuul Control, Kuul Vitality and Kuul Comfort. Kuul Control is used in data centres, power generation and HVAC systems. Kuul Vitality is utilised primarily in the horticulture, poultry and swine industries. Kuul Comfort is exclusively made for usage in Portacool-branded portable evaporative coolers.
Kuul can help data centre operators lower their PUE dramatically, increasing the environmental sustainability of their facilities significantly as a result of its rigid evaporative media solutions.