To test the feasibility of underwater data centers powered by offshore renewable energy, Microsoft launched Project Natick in 2014. A year later, Phase 1 set to prove the concept was feasible by submerging a sub-scale prototype off the coast of California for 105 days.

Following the proof-of-concept vessel's success, the Microsoft team kicked into full gear toward Phase 2. Now, a 40-foot long design is processing data on the seafloor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands. It has 12 server racks stacked with 864 servers, along with its associated cooling system infrastructure.

When implementing the second phase, Microsoft collaborated with France-based company Naval Group because of their expert knowledge in military-grade ships, submarines, and marine energy technologies.

Naval Group was able adapt a submarine cooling heat-exchange process to help the data center’s thermal management. The system channels seawater directly through the radiators, which are located on the back of each of the 12 server racks, and back into the ocean.

As the prototype improves, the team hopes to create an underwater structure that is self-sustained, powered by offshore wave, wind, or tidal generators. This means it can be submerged near any coastal city and supply faster internet and cloud service.

“Data centers are the backbone of the internet, the physical clouds of cloud computing where customers leverage economies of scale to securely store and process data, train machine learning models, and run AI algorithms,” according to Microsoft in a blog post, “Demand for data center resources across the computing industry is growing exponentially as corporations increasingly shift their networks and computing needs to the cloud, and internet-connected intelligent devices ranging from smartphones to robots proliferate.”

With demands rising, Project Natick targets next-gen data center design.

The team will monitor Phase 2 over the next 12 months to measure performance, power consumption, internal humidity levels, sound, and temperature. According to Microsoft, the current prototype can handle maintenance-free operations for up to 5 years.

You can see the Phase 2 design being lowered into the water in the video below.