What Businesses Can Learn from Microsoft's New Underwater Data Center
by Stephanie Faris on Monday, June 11, 2018 13:30
Although underwater data centers have been discussed for a while, Microsoft finally took the plunge, showing off its latest data center off the coast of Scotland.
The 864-server data center was built above water and submerged to a depth of 117 feet, where it was plugged in to a cable containing wiring for fiber optics and power.
The data center is only the first of multiple such sites Microsoft hopes to build in the coming years. Additionally, the company hopes to sell prepackaged underwater data centers, which businesses could custom order to suit their own needs. The move to underwater data centers can teach the IT industry quite a bit about today's data center weaknesses, helping them seek out innovative ways to strengthen their own operations.
On land, data centers face risk of fires, tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. One major catastrophe can wipe out the entire internal contents of a data center. IT professionals put measures in place to protect against such events, including choosing locations that are less likely to suffer a major disaster and possibly even survive it unscathed. They also protect the data they house through regular backups, server mirroring, and other fault tolerance procedures.
However, underwater data centers would not be completely immune to disasters. Earthquakes and underwater volcanos could impact a data center, so it's important they be built and located specifically to survive those challenges.
One ongoing issue with data centers is the amount of data they consume. A government study in 2016 found that in 2014 alone, the country's data centers used 70 billion kWh of electricity, which was 1.8 percent of the U.S.'s overall energy consumption that year. Microsoft's underwater data center is built to resolve that issue.
Due to the heat emitted from the equipment, data centers rely heavily on cooling systems to keep equipment safe. Microsoft points out that oceans are already naturally cool, fully prepared to provide the chilly temperatures necessary to run a data center. Microsoft also envisions a future where underwater data centers could operate in tandem with wind farms and tidal turbines, gathering the electricity they need without taxing the power grid.
From a customer service perspective, underwater server rooms bring value, as well. Utilizing the world's vast waterways, data centers could be located near coastal areas that might not be in close proximity to land-based data centers. This would provide quicker, more reliable service than they may already be getting.
As the population continues to grow, underwater data centers will resolve another problem. There is a limited amount of land available for commercial and residential buildings. An underwater data center saves property on land for other uses.
Whether an underwater data center is in your future or not, it's interesting to note the issues Microsoft's new venture resolves. It highlights the many challenges land-based data centers face and illustrates the need to make changes that can keep the I.T. industry moving forward at minimal expense to consumers and the environment.