In 1870 French Novelist Jules Verne published his famous novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Although submarine vessels had been in use - the Northern Union Navy’s Monitor and its battle with the Confederate Navy’s Merrimack during the U.S. Civil War being two of the most notable - the ships were crude and of limited ability. Verne’s Nautilus, with its electrical power and advanced diving suits, was decades if not a century ahead of its time. Popularized by the Walt Disney movie version of the tale, images of the Nautilus in battle with a giant squid fascinated the imagination.
Modern submarines can duplicate and with nuclear power plants even exceed the capability of Verne’s Nautilus of course. But neither Verne nor the designers of today’s modern submarines could envision what Microsoft announced recently: Undersea Data Centers.
Described in The Verge, Microsoft unveiled Project Natick, an experimental program to study undersea data centers that may be able to provide cost-effective, environmentally friendly cloud services for future generations. Microsoft operated an eight-foot steel capsule prototype for over one hundred days off the California coast in 2015.
Microsoft’s Project Natick data center module
Given forecasts about the energy requirements and environmental impact of today’s data centers, undersea data centers that can produce their own energy and operate more efficiently offer potential solutions to head off onerous regulations. By marrying liquid cooling, albeit not in the server racks themselves, and high efficiency heat removal, Microsoft’s project is based on an attractive premise, one that may help meet growing data center demand and address environmental impact concerns.
While the prospect of this kind of innovation is exciting, running a server for 100 days is a long way from meeting the world’s increasing appetite for data. And claims about energy and environmental friendliness will need to be more closely examined to more accurately predict its impact. It will be fascinating to watch this story unfold and see where Microsoft takes Project Natick next.
And in case you were wondering... 20,000 metric leagues is approximately 80,000 kilometers or 50,000 miles. The average ocean depth is approximately 3.6 kilometers or 2.3 miles; the deepest part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep portion of the Mariana Trench is 11 kilometers or 6.8 miles deep. Verne’s depth is more than seven times the deepest part of the ocean, more than six times the diameter of the earth or about one-third of the distance to the moon. The title describes the total distance traveled by the Nautilus, not the depth of the ocean.