Microsoft’s Project Natick looks at the feasibility of the undersea datacentre

Microsoft wants your data to take a dip.

While the traditional data centre has been located on land — and typically in a remote location — Microsoft Corp. announced on Monday it is currently looking at the prospects of deploying underwater data centres. Dubbed Project Natick, work on the initiative began in late 2014; the experimental project was operated off the U.S. Pacific coast between August and November of last year and involved a 10-by-7-foot experimental prototype vessel, named the Leona Philpot after a character from the popular Xbox game “Halo.”

According to the Redmond, Wash.-based company, the 100-plus-day trial project sought to determine the feasibility of subsea data centres and is part of its “ongoing quest for cloud datacentre solutions that provide rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and are more environmentally sustainable.”

Microsoft has been focused on its data centre technology approach in recent months; most recently it announced it is building two new Canadian data centres in Toronto and Quebec City to support its commercial cloud-based products Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online.

From a CIO and technology decision-maker perspective, there is indeed a business case for a hosted data centre and cloud or software-as-a-service model, but concerns about security, data residency and geo-redundancy remain; Microsoft researchers argue the benefits of putting a data centre underwater include higher reliability, availability and accuracy, adding that due to the location it might also be better protected against cybersecurity threats.

And it’s no secret that complexity is often the order of the day within the data centre of today’s organizations. The issue of power and cooling as always been a challenge for the data centre — particularly considering the amount of heat the average hardware server can generate. This is also in light of the rise of mobile device usage and emerging technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which threaten to increase of volume of structured and unstructured data and pressure on the IT department.

Microsoft said with Project Natick, it is looking at deploying its hosted data centres off the coast — which its researchers estimate that half of the global population lives within approximately 193 kilometres from the sea — to reduce latency for faster speeds around web browsing, streaming video data and Internet downloads.

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Ryan Patrick
Ryan Patrick
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