How Electricity and Water Mix

Electricity and water don't mix? Our quest for innovative Green ICT concepts has turned up many unusual concepts doing just that. The latest is a proposal for submerging entire data centers.

We've chronicled a lot of electricity/liquid combos in past posts.

But immersing an entire data center?

Microsoft's Project Natick explores just that idea. (You may have to refresh the page to see the video to the right, which you can expand to full screen.)

Advantages? IEEE Spectrum online (February 2017) covered them in depth.

" would offer a company like ours the ability to quickly target capacity where and when it is needed...what you really want is for the servers to be close to the people they serve, something that rarely happens today... almost half the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the sea."

"..underwater data centers could be built more quickly than land-based ones...Today, the construction of each such installation is unique. The equipment might be the same, but building codes, taxes, climate, workforce, electricity supply, and network connectivity are different everywhere...The [Natick-designed dat center] pods could be constructed in a factory, provisioned with servers, and made ready to ship anywhere in the world...Our goal for Natick is to be able to get data centers up and running, at coastal sites anywhere in the world, within 90 days from the decision to deploy."

"The interior of the data-center pod consists of standard computer racks with attached heat exchangers, which transfer the heat from the air to some liquid, likely ordinary water. That liquid is then pumped to heat exchangers on the outside of the pod, which in turn transfer the heat to the surrounding ocean. The cooled transfer liquid then returns to the internal heat exchangers to repeat the cycle...To get access to chilly seawater even during the summer or in the tropics, you need only put the pods sufficiently deep. For example, at 200 meters’ depth off the east coast of Florida, the water remains below 15 °C all year round." This is important for much of the developing world, because the largest data centers are currently located in the northern hemisphere due to cooling considerations.

Microsoft's Project Natick site summarizes the environmental issues thusly. "How would a Natick datacenter impact the environment? We aspire to create a sustainable datacenter which leverages locally produced green energy, providing customers with additional options to meet their own sustainability requirements.

  • Natick datacenters are envisioned to be fully recycled. Made from recycled material which in turn is recycled at the end of life of the datacenter.
  • A Natick datacenter co-located with offshore renewable energy sources could be truly zero emission: no waste products, whether due to the power generation, computers, or human maintainers are emitted into the environment.
  • With the end of Moore’s Law, the cadence at which servers are refreshed with new and improved hardware in the datacenter is likely to slow significantly. We see this as an opportunity to field long-lived, resilient datacenters that operate 'lights out' – nobody on site – with very high reliability for the entire life of the deployment, possibly as long as 10 years.
  • Natick datacenters consume no water for cooling or any other purpose."