Sticking a computer underwater isn’t a great idea. (PSA: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!) But if you happen to be Microsoft, sticking a whole bunch of computer servers under the sea might just be a brilliant idea.
See, data centers, or buildings where all of the internet is processed use a ton of energy. No, really. In the United States alone, they annually suck up the equivalent of the energy output of 34 coal-fired power plants. A lot of that energy goes to powering the actual servers, but almost half of it goes to keeping the servers nice and cool, so they don’t overheat and crash,
sending us all into the apocalypse keeping parts of the internet offline for a while.
Computer scientists and architects have employed all kinds of methods for keeping data centers cool, from building data centers in cool climates to putting bags of liquid coolant inside server banks to using heat from data centers to warm buildings and heat water.
But Microsoft has a different idea: dump the servers deep in the ocean, where the cool temperatures of the surrounding water will keep the servers cool 24/7, regardless of the seasons on the surface.
“Project Natick” is still in the research phase. Microsoft ran a successful test last year, submerging servers in a vessel called the Leona Philpot (a nod to a character in Microsoft’s Halo video games) for several months. The test was conducted 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) off the Pacific Coast.
The idea is that eventually, the servers could run with little to no human maintenance for up to 10 years under the ocean.
In addition to being a cool place to store computers (literally) the ocean has other advantages. About 3.5 billion people live within 125 miles of the ocean, making offshore data centers a good way to get vast amounts of people connected to the internet quickly, without using up precious landed real estate.
It can also be deployed quickly, with Microsoft estimating that server carrying vessels can be put in place in as little as three months. That might seem like a long time, but could be very useful for areas that don’t currently have internet to get online quickly, and could also help reconnect areas who have been devastated by natural disasters like storms or earthquakes. The company’s researchers also suggest that it could be a good way to supplement a large influx of internet-hungry people (like crowds for the Olympics or the World Cup).
Watch Microsoft’s introduction video below to learn more about Project Natick.