With Project Natick, Microsoft is like SpongeBob -- puts data center under the sea


Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants! Depending on your age, you might absolutely adore that character or possibly not be familiar at all. Me? I fall into the former. While it is a kids show, I find it to be quite entertaining.

You know who else might be a fan of Mr. SquarePants? Microsoft. Yes, believe it or not, the company has built an underwater data center, located in California, named 'Project Natick' for the ocean. In other words, like SpongeBob, the data center will live under the sea. While it is only in a testing phase, it is still cool nonetheless. Hopefully it operates quietly, however, as if it is noisy, it might bother Squidward's clarinet playing.

"It all started in 2013 when Microsoft employee, Sean James, who served on a US Navy submarine submitted a ThinkWeek Paper. Norm Whitaker read the paper and built a team to explore the idea of placing computers or even entire datacenters in water. In late 2014, Microsoft kicked off Project Natick. The rest is history", says Microsoft.

The big question you should be asking, of course, is why is Microsoft is doing this? The answer is surprisingly simple -- heat. Data centers run very hot and require intense cooling from air-conditioning. Not only does this cost the owner a lot of money in energy bills, but it can be bad for the environment too.

The carbon footprint from the world's combined data centers is likely astronomical. If you can harness the cooling of the deep ocean's waters, by using it to dissipate heat naturally, you can arguably reduce costs and reduce the strain on the environment.

Ben Cutler, a Microsoft employee and engineer on the project tells the New York Times, "when I first heard about this I thought, 'Water ... electricity, why would you do that?' But as you think more about it, it actually makes a lot of sense".

Of course, despite the potential environmental benefits, there are unknown risks too. Could the heat given off by the data center impact the natural habitat of the sea life? Even if local temperature increases are slight, it could be enough to disrupt a balance. More research and testing will likely be needed to determine if Project Natick is a risk-free proposal.

Plus, lets be honest here folks; electronics and water generally don't mix well. True, some computers are liquid-cooled with minimal risk and maintenance, but a data center in the ocean is faced with extreme pressure -- a leak could prove disastrous.

It may be quite a while before a company truly trusts its precious data under the sea. Luckily, Microsoft has installed sensors on Project Natick to monitor just how harsh the ocean's impact will be on it.

What do you think of Project Natick? Tell me in the comments.

Photo credit: New York Times

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