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Underwater Data Centers Market - Growth, Future Prospects & Competitive Analysis

Data centers are experiencing an explosive growth worldwide. With the evolving demand for more and faster data processing, coupled with the inception of internet of things (IoT) and big data, the demand for data center is booming on a continuous basis. Underwater data center is a data center that can run for years without any human intervention or repairs. Underwater data centers could sometimes serve as anchor tenants for the land based renewable energy farms. These data centers could provide internet connectivity for years and are quick to deploy, which can drive the growth of underwater data centers in the near future. Building a data center underwater could help cloud providers manage today’s remarkable growth in an environmentally sustainable way. As these data centers would not only reduce the construction costs, but will also limit the costs associated with cooling the machines thereby making it easier to power such facilities with renewable energy, while improving performance. 

Microsoft’s Project - Natick strives to understand the benefits as well as difficulties in deploying subsea datacenters worldwide. Project Natick is a pilot project to build an underwater data center. With this project, Microsoft is investigating numerous potential benefits that are manufacturable, deployable and standard that an underwater datacenter could provide to cloud users all over the world. Deep water deployment has the potential to be powered by co-located renewable power sources by providing controlled environment and ready access to cooling. Microsoft’s underwater data center capsule has been placed in the Scottish sea for determining if it can save energy by cooling itself in the sea.

As per the data provided by Microsoft, the underwater data center capsule deployed in the Scottish sea is 12.2m in length and 2.8m in diameter (3.18m including external components). The subsea docking structure dimensions are 14.3m in length and 12.7m in width. The underwater data center is 100% powered by the locally produced renewable energy from Orkney Islands from the off-shore tide and wave and on-shore wind and solar and is wired by an underwater cable. The underwater cable will connect the servers back to the internet. Microsoft’s Natick underwater data center, a white cylindrical shaped capsule containing servers is expected to sit on the sea floor for up to five years, having an internal operating environment of one atmosphere pressure, dry nitrogen. After each 5-year deployment cycle, the data center capsule will be redeployed, retrieved and reloaded with new computers. Natick data center target lifespan is at least 20 years and after that, the data center is designed to be recycled and retrieved.

Microsoft’s Project Natick underwater data center has a payload of 12 racks containing a total of 864 servers packed in a 40 foot container with FPGA acceleration and 27.6 petabytes of disk. The Natick datacenter is enough to store about 5 million movies. Project Natick is now operating at about 100 ft. below the surface and will be operated for 12 months. The company will put the servers through a battery of tests for checking the humidity levels, power consumption, temperatures and noise creation. Microsoft envisions deploying groups of five of these capsules which will deploy a data center offshore in 90 days, whereas it takes years to deploy a data center on land. The resilient data center has an ability to operate unmanned in a lights out environment. Since oceans are equally cool underneath, keeping machines under certain depth would ultimately reduce the costs associated with cooling that makes up a large amount of the operating budget of data centers.  

Similarly, in 2009, Google patented a water-based data center detailing a floating data center, complete with an energy supply fed by a wind-powered cooling system and wave-powered generator system using seawater. The company has kept it a secret and has not announced anything about the idea of water-based data center. Considering Google’s secretive move towards building water-based data center and the success of Microsoft’s Project Natick is helping both the tech giants finding a new way to take advantage of the liquid assets, thereby offering lucrative opportunities for the data center providers to expand their computing capacity and substantially reducing the operating costs in the near future.

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