Microsoft’s Northern Isles data center has been placed on the sea floor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The project is part of the second phase of the company’s moonshot to develop self-sufficient underwater data centers able to deliver lightning-quick cloud services to coastal cities.
Northern Isles runs on 100 percent locally produced renewable electricity from on-shore wind and solar, off-shore tide and wave.
The deployment of shipping-container-size (approximately 40 feet) prototype at the European Marine Energy Centre marks a milestone in Microsoft’s Project Natick, a research effort which began in 2013, to investigate manufacturing and operating environmentally sustainable, prepackaged data center units that can be ordered to size, rapidly deployed and left to operate on the seafloor for up to five years without requiring maintenance.
“That is kind of a crazy set of demands to make,” said Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft AI and Research, who leads the New Experiences and Technologies, or NExT, group.
“Natick is trying to get there.”
Lee’s group pursues what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has called “relevant moonshots” with the potential to transform the core of Microsoft’s business and the computer technology industry. Project Natick is an out-of-the-box idea to accommodate exponential growth in demand for cloud computing infrastructure near population centers.
More than half of the world’s population lives within about 120 miles of the coast. By putting datacenters in bodies of water near coastal cities, data would have a short distance to travel to reach coastal communities.
“For true delivery of AI, we are really cloud dependent today,” said Lee. “If we can be within one internet hop of everyone, then it not only benefits our products, but also the products our customers serve.”