For all the ethereal imagery, the cloud is a highly physical, earthbound thing.
When people check their Facebook likes or stream Netflix, the computing activity happens somewhere, usually somewhere far away in a gigantic warehouse stacked with high-powered computers. Those data farms aren’t floating in the sky. They’re sitting on land, sucking up a ton of energy and water for running and cooling the machines. They also tend to be built where land is cheap and millions of gallons of water won’t be missed—in other words, far from the dense urban communities that house most web users.
But Microsoft recently discovered another location that fits that description: the bottom of the ocean.
Project Natick submerged a 38,000-pound, 10-by-7-foot steel tube off the coast of California for three months to see if the servers inside it continued to function with the power of 300 desktop PCs. The company says this is the first time a data center has operated under the sea. And it worked. That achievement opens the door for future data-storage infrastructure to take advantage of the natural cooling properties and renewable energy of the underwater location.
Since ocean water gets pretty cold toward the sea floor, the server farms won’t need the kind of intense cooling infrastructure that’s vital to avoiding costly meltdowns on land. And the researchers plan to hook up their next underwater capsule with technology to capture the motion of the waves as hydrokinetic energy.