Microsoft's Underwater Data Center Pivots to the Future of the Internet of Underwater Things

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3Q 2020 | IN-5938

Microsoft's underwater data center, also known as Project Natick, has been expanded and promises some exciting new benefits. To learn the latest on the story, read our insight.

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Dumping the Data Center onto the Seafloor Turned out to be a Brilliant Idea!


Microsoft has expanded its 2018 underwater data center project, dubbed "Project Natick", which is deployed 117 feet below the ocean surface in the Northern Isles, Scotland. The idea behind an underwater data center was that due to less temperature fluctuations and stable pressure, the sealed container could improve the overall safety and reliability of the data center. In September 2020, Microsoft comes to the final phase of the project: retrieving the data center pod in an effort to prove the concept and test the feasibility of data centers being located under the water’s surface.

Microsoft's Underwater Data Center Strikes Economic and Efficiency Balance


Microsoft's Proof of Concept (POC) pod, called the Leona Philpot, established that an underwater data center provides economic viability, with 8X less probability of failure, compared to the on-land data storage facilities. The deployment of Project Natick confirmed the hypothesis and this has a direct implication for the future of the land-based datacenter model. Arguably, if or rather when Microsoft can ensure that such a deployment is safe for the marine environment, it could be one of the most significant advancements in data center deployments since Google's DeepMind's Artificial Intelligence (AI) reduced its data centers' footprint by 40% by using green energy for the cooling mechanism.

As the Microsoft undersea data center goes to show, companies are enabled to foster energy sustainability because sub-sea surfaces are consistently cold. This means that the pod can maintain a consistently low temperature with lower energy overhead than mechanical cooling or free-air approaches. When the economic and ecological concepts are proven to be safe and viable options, Microsoft Azure is expected to deploy a cluster of underwater data centers to create a commercial proposition and to further test the energy efficiency of the cloud computing space. Spencer Fowers, a principal member of technical staff for Microsoft's Special Projects research group, explained it this way in an article on Microsoft innovation stories: "As we are moving from generic cloud computing to cloud and edge computing, we are seeing more and more need to have smaller data centers located closer to customers instead of these large warehouse data centers out in the middle of nowhere."

New Synergy of Eco-Monitoring, Energy Efficiency, and Economic Feasibility


Considering that the lakes, oceans, and seas cover 71% of the earth's surface, the underwater Internet of Things (IoT) could be the next step in technological innovation. Currently, coastal areas around the world are heavily populated, in addition to up to 150 miles of urban development near the coast. In terms of IoT development, projects like the Microsoft underwater data center near coastal cities would enable a short-distance trip for the data, where the reduced latency has not yet been tackled by 5G. This would provide smoother connectivity and, subsequently, data streaming, in real or near real time.

There are already several IoT projects in place that are contributing to the development of the underwater IoT, which include connectivity, sensor, power transfer, and racking projects:

  • Sigfox U.S.A, in collaboration with Gloucester Innovation, is monitoring and recording the seafloor data, under a project named "LobsterNet." Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) connectivity allows devices to transmit data regarding temperature, depth, and other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the ocean floor for continuous monitoring.
  • NATO STO (The Science and Technology Organization Center of Excellence) is using IoT solutions, where low-cost SPOT Trace devices are integrated with buoys floating around the world and transmitting information regarding surface drifts and their changes.
  • Libelium and its Smart Water Xtreme monitoring IoT platform monitors water quality and supports the development of the Smart Ocean Cities concept of the IoT. For more details, see ABI Insight “IoT Technology Making Waves toward Smart Ocean Cities.”

With underwater data centers, there is new impetus for ocean-based computing with a new synergy of eco-monitoring, energy efficiency, and economic feasibility.