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Microsoft goes underwater in quest for faster data

The Leona Philpot subsea data center prototype

To improve data servers’ efficacy and reliability, Microsoft (MFST) has tested a new prototype data centre under the waves. The subsea experiment is called Project Natick and aims to eliminate the dual problem of data latency and to cool – aspects of cloud storage that most often cause crashes.

In addition to having servers underwater, the firm is also investigating the possibility of ‘green’ subsea generators to provide additional power sources.

In what sounds more like science fiction than science fact, Microsoft is seeking to emulate the likes of Facebook (FB) and Google companies who have already made forays into underwater data systems technology.

The principle is to bring data storage infrastructure closer to large population centres located close by water. Potential benefits include lower costs and better sustainability for companies willing to invest.


Microsoft’s prototype subsea data centre was called the Leona Philpott (after a character from Xbox game Halo) and was tried out in the seas off California last year.

The capsule – an enormous tubular section some 2 metres tall – was placed in the sea for four months in 2015 while researchers ran tests.

The firm said the environmental impact was minimal during testing: “During our deployment of the Leona Philpot vessel, sea life in the local vicinity quickly adapted to the presence of the vessel”, reported the project website.

Savings also figure strongly in the argument for subsea data. Demand is growing hugely, with Microsoft already managing some 100 data centres around the world.

The “Internet of Things” means the problems of storage and latency will only multiply, with vast amounts already being spent each year on cloud cooling systems.

Things are at an early stage. These “feasibility studies” have yet to pave the way for more capsules in the immediate future, but Microsoft remains optimistic.

Using the cooling power of cold water would drastically reduce costs to company and consumers, and a ‘green’ independent power source could add cache to the firm’s sustainability credentials.

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