Could underwater datacentres be the future?

Microsoft has recently retrieved a shipping-container-sized datacentre from the seabed off Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The sealed container itself was coated in barnacles, algae, and sea anemones!

Where did the idea come from?

The concept was first ‘floated’ back in 2014 and was actually suggested by a Microsoft employee during the company’s ThinkWeek event – in which employees are encouraged to share their ‘out of the box’ ideas.

Why underwater?

There were a number of potential advantages that the testing hoped to prove correct.
There is a trend toward providing smaller datacentres closer to customers rather than large warehouses in the middle of nowhere. Since in excess of 50% of the world’s population live within 120 miles of the coast, locating datacentres offshore near the major coastal cities would mean data had less distance to travel, resulting in faster data transfer and smoother local web connections.
Compared to land-based solutions, overall reliability could be improved for several reasons; the absence of oxygen and reduced temperature fluctuations inhibit corrosion and component degradation, while the units are also safer from physical damage caused by humans. As a result, failure rates could be reduced and there should be little need for replacement parts.

Thanks to the consistently cool temperatures in deep water, energy efficiency is another potential benefit, reducing their environmental impact.

What happened when it was retrieved?

Once it was brought up from the seabed, the container was power washed and air samples were taken via a valve (using test tubes). It was then taken to a facility in the North of Scotland where the server racks were removed and analysed. Other components were also analysed to establish how well they had performed or if any had been damaged or failed.

Where are datacentres now?

Datacentres are located across the globe, many in state-of-the-art facilities. For example, Google has datacentres in North America, Asia, South America, and Europe. This allows them to keep copies of client files and data in multiple geographical locations so that if there is a physical issue with any, crucial files are still available from another. Consequently, they are able to keep their products running safely 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Why datacentre location is important?

The location of your provider’s datacentre is something many clients don’t even consider, but it is actually quite important for several reasons –
Data speed and latency: If your company is based in the UK but your datacentres are in the USA that means the data needs to travel across the Atlantic whenever your customers ask to access it. Therefore, it won’t reach their devices as quickly as it would have if the datacentre was in the UK. Although the difference is often measured in milliseconds it can become significant, creating frustration at slow page load times and sluggish responsiveness to user input.
SEO: Search engines identify the physical location of your data from the IP address, and it can affect your search engine ranking. Although it is a minor factor, this is another reason to keep data close to your customer-base.
Data Protection: Data protection laws vary across the globe and some of them stipulate geographical constraints on where data has to be stored, or where it can be transferred to or from.
Government access: The level of government access to stored data also varies significantly in different countries. For example, the US Government has a lot more access to data than is allowed in most European countries. Consequently, it could be wise for UK companies to host their data within the UK or Europe rather than across the pond.

Conclusions

The initial results of this venture support the view that underwater datacentres are feasible, and desirable because of environmental, logistical, and economic practicalities. The possibility of powering such datacentres entirely from nearby offshore windfarms is also being investigated.

If your business hasn’t yet explored the full potential of moving your servers and data to the cloud or only has partially implemented cloud solutions, then give Cloudworks a call. We are specialists in cloud technologies, cyber-security and support. In addition, we continuously monitor our clients IT cloud infrastructure to ensure they are secure and protected against the latest threats. Give us a call to find out more and we will find the best strategy and solution to fit your business.

Call us on 0115 824 8244 or email info@cloudworks.co.uk