Cloud infrastructure pod in the ocean


So why not put our datacentre into the ocean – underwater? Microsoft did; look at the image above… Yes, that’s a datacentre about to be dropped into the darkest depths of the ocean. Why do that? For me, I thought water and electricity just do not mix too well. I was wrong, let me explain.

Distance between servers – Lower the latency

The main issue regarding a land-based datacentre is the cost of the purchased land. This leads to cloud providers trying to achieve maximum efficiency by increasing the density of servers. This increased density brings its own issues, but the main issue is heat dissipation. Microsoft came up with a concept that relieves these problems by creating the ocean based datacentre in a pod. The idea is to create a number of smaller datacentres which are located close to land in the ocean. These smaller pod based datacentres are able to dissipate heat into the surrounding water. The idea is that Microsoft could deploy more pods in other locations near the coast, reducing the distance between datacentres.

Environment – Protect the future

Believe it or not, servers on land are more prone to breakdown than servers in water-tight pods on the ocean floor. On land, corrosion from oxygen and temperature variations can contribute to equipment failure. Not only that, the engineer who needs to replace a broken component doesn’t have the opportunity to break something else – as it’s underwater! Why the Orkney Islands? Partly because the power generation, which is currently supplied solely by wind and solar. Many consider this power source as unreliable, but in contrast, it has been exceptionally reliable, leading Microsoft to consider taking the focus off power and reliability infrastructure. Could there be an impact on people’s lives, agriculture and wildlife? Ben Cutler, a project manager in Microsoft’s Special Projects research group who leads the Scottish Project concluded: “The project has shown that data centers can be operated and kept cool without tapping freshwater resources that are vital to people, agriculture and wildlife.”

The findings – Resurfacing after two years

Once the pod containing 864 servers and related cooling system infrastructure surfaced and after a little cleaning, air samples were collected for analysis. All data was sent to Global Energy Group’s Nigg Energy Park facility in North Scotland where the server racks were retrieved and sent to Redmond Washington (Microsoft’s headquarters). It didn’t take too long to conclude that server failure rate in the water was nowhere near the failure rate on land. In fact, the servers in the underwater datacentre were eight times more reliable than those on land! The pod’s environment hadn’t altered. With fewer server breakdowns and replacement parts needed, these underwater datacentres can be resurfaced once every five years or so…very cost-effective.

Talks are still in place on how to power a full suite of Microsoft’s Azure cloud service in an underwater datacentre. This is yet to be determined, but the fact that these centres are very quick to deploy and avoid large datacentre warehouses on land is certainly promising for the future of cloud technology.

But before you go dropping all of your servers into the nearest ocean, consider using alternative options to provide greater server availability, Open Minds provide a number of solutions to protect your applications and services against down time, find out more here.



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