Editor’s Note: This article was last updated on March 26, 2019
If your company is positioned in digital spaces, especially data management, then you know how quickly industry standards can change while new trends develop. New technological advancements are constantly happening, making it particularly difficult at times to accurately predict what direction the industry might move towards. Which makes Microsoft’s Project Natick so interesting: it’s a chance to get an idea of where the future of data centers might lead to.
The concept for Microsoft’s Project Natick stems from the idea of taking edge computing and edge data centers, but apply it in a self-sustaining setting underwater – geared towards providing cloud services to coastal cities at an extremely fast rate.
It almost sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but in June, Project Natick launched with the help of submarines and other marine technology experts. The team installed a shipping container-sized prototype on the seafloor off the cost of the Orkney Islands in Scotland. The project hopes to make big steps towards making marine-powered self-sustaining technology more viable.
To get into the technical specifics, the Northern Isles data center is 40 feet long. Inside there are 12 racks holding a total of 864 servers along with an infrastructure to allow for a cooling system. It was first built in France and tested before making the trek to Scotland on the back of a flatbed truck. Upon arrival, in order to deploy it on the seabed, the data center was attached to a ballast-filled triangular base.
The pod is airtight, so security and physical sustainability is not a major concern at this time. And after six months, hasn’t proved to be an issue. Installment was fairly complex. On its way out to see via tow, the data center was cradled between the pontoons of a barge by winches and cranes.
The cable, for both fiber optic and power wiring, ran from the shore and was already on the sea floor. Once the data center was towed out to the deployment site, the cable was retrieved by a small remote vehicle, examined for safety and attached to the data center. Once powered on, the crew of marine workers had to lower the data center foot-by-foot, 117 feet total, to the seafloor.
Operating on the edge makes sense, it’s a growing trend in data use and computing in general. Basically, edge computing allows for faster network service by shortening the physical distance between where data or cloud services are provided and the places that are using them. The result being a super charged, super smooth browsing experience, extremely fast video streaming and gaming, and vast improvement to any other connection-reliant service.
Finding a way to utilize the ocean also makes a tremendous amount of sense, given that nearly half of the world’s population lives within 100 miles or so off the coast. It only makes sense to locate data centers closer to the markets that utilize their services.
Not to mention the growing reliance on cloud computing in general. But it’s also important to note that if a data center could successfully operate at the bottom of the ocean, odds are it will do just fine in other harsh conditions.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has referred to the project, team, and its goals as “relevant moonshots,” knowing that the results could potentially flip the company’s core business pursuits (as well as the tech industry as a whole) on its head.
Success would show the validity of being able to manufacture self-powered, environmentally sustainable data centers. They would be customizable by size, sent in areas where they would be best used, and left on their own to operate for years at a time. Complete data center efficiency would not only be perpetually sustained, but the need for excessive security protocols and backup power to prevent a full on disaster would essentially be eliminated.
Why It Matters
While it probably won’t be adopted into modern data center architecture practices, Project Natick matters because it’s an inspiring example of one of the world’s biggest companies approaching modern problems with creative and innovative ideas and solutions.
Our dependence on the cloud and the need to access data at a faster rate is only going to continue to grow. It’s important that industry leaders continue to push boundaries and improve existing systems.
Additionally, being able to bring data and cloud connection to areas that were previously unavailable will help improve the growth of global capabilities. Places that were once unable to take advantage of cloud-based resources will now have access. It would reduce so much of the risk involved in operating in areas with unreliable power supplies, and vastly improve efficiency in well established markets.
Plus, as far as time and costs, production of more may be relatively cheap and easy. Nadella estimated that the entire construction was only around three months from start to finish, making Project Natick perhaps the first of many more to come. The next year will mostly be more observation, but entire collections of underwater pods with thousands of servers could go into production if the project continues to prove to be successful and viable.
Microsoft’s Project Natick might seem outlandish right now. But in just a few years it might be the industry standard. But that shouldn’t necessarily frighten you! Technology continues to advance and develop at an increasingly fast rate, and having the capability to use devices more efficiently at a better quality will only help advance things more. Plus, it will make the every day user experience even better, making general business operations easier while also decreasing a great amount of risk.
Staying up to date on the latest major IT, tech, and data-providing news as well as the top organizations in the industry is a great way to be better prepared to take your enterprise company into the future. New technologies may eventually effect you, your business, or how everyday devices are better used where you live.
If an upgrade or renovation to your data center requires a full on data center decommission, be sure to enlist the help of a certified IT asset disposition company. At Exit Technologies, we offer full IT equipment services ranging from asset recovery, network equipment sales and recycling, data erasure, and full data center decommission services.
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