Microsoft Sinks Data Centre off Orkney

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Microsoft has sunk a data centre in the sea off Orkney to investigate whether it can boost energy efficiency. The data centre, a white cylinder containing computers, could sit on the sea floor for up to five years.

The theory is that the cost of cooling the computers will be cut by placing them underwater. “We think we actually get much better cooling underwater than on land,” says Ben Cutler, who is in charge of what Microsoft has dubbed Project Natick.

It will not be possible to repair the computers if they fail, but the hope is that there will be a lower failure rate than on land.

This is a tiny data centre compared with the giant sheds that now store so much of the world’s information, just 12 racks of servers but with enough room to store five million movies.

The presence of EMEC, with its expertise in renewable energy and its knowledge of the seas around Orkney, was one factor behind Microsoft’s decision to choose this location. “We’ve got so much renewable energy here,” says EMEC managing director Neil Kermode. “We’ve produced more than we need since 2012.”

The Orkney Islands were early adopters of wind energy. And EMEC has been experimenting with tidal and wave energy for 14 years, with one of its test sites on the beach where the Project Natick cable comes ashore.