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Microsoft's underwater data center, Project Natick, prepares to take the plunge.
Microsoft’s underwater data center, Project Natick, prepares to take the plunge. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft is testing a data center that operates hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface.

By submerging a data center into the sea’s cold waters, the company is hoping to solve the overheating problems that can affect the operation of computer servers, Microsoft says.

Microsoft also believes the ocean could produce the energy needed to power an underwater data center and may link it with a turbine or a tidal energy system.

“When I first heard about this I thought, “Water…electricity, why would you do that?’ ” said Ben Cutler, the project manager who led the team behind the experiment, in a story about the project on Microsoft’s new site. “But as you think more about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.”

Microsoft's underwater datacenter. (Photo: Microsoft)
The team behind Microsoft’s underwater datacenter. (Microsoft Photo)

Huge populations around the world live in cities located near oceans. Developing the technology to operate the centers underwater may eventually bring them closer to users, which could speed up performance. Datacenters are typically located in rural or suburban areas where there’s plenty of room and space is cheap.

Microsoft dubbed its test Project Natick. The test datacenter is 10 feet by 7 feet and weighs 38,000 pounds. It only consumed the computing power equivalent to 300 desktop PCs. Microsoft placed it in the Pacific Ocean about half a mile from shore.

Some of the Internet’s biggest players are experimenting with housing servers in unusual places. In 2013, Facebook began operating a datacenter in Northern Sweden, not far from the Arctic Circle last year. The cold air will cool the servers and Facebook says the computing facility is the most energy efficient ever built.

Amazon uses windmills to provide energy for one of its centers and Google’s datacenter in Hamina, Finland relies on seawater to cool its servers.

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