Microsoft has ditched its Project Natick underwater data center

Microsoft Project Natick data center

Microsoft has quietly ended its Project Natick underwater data center experiment after more than a decade of work, citing a series of quiet years that have naturally led to this point.

Noelle Walsh, the head of the company’s Cloud Operations + Innovation (CO+I) division, confirmed to Data Center Dynamics: “I'm not building subsea data centers anywhere in the world.”

Despite the termination of Microsoft’s subsea plans, Walsh said that the company will apply lessons it has learned from the project to other work in the future.

Microsoft’s Project Natick has been terminated

Walsh noted: “My team worked on it, and it worked. We learned a lot about operations below sea level and vibration and impacts on the server. So we'll apply those learnings to other cases.”

The project, which started in 2013, famously saw a test unit deployed off the coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands in 2018. The underwater data center, which operated for 5 years, was designed to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the industry.

It promised to reduce latency, with Microsoft claiming that half the world’s population lives within 200km of the coast, while using local renewable energy and minimizing the need for external cooling.

The data center industry is set for continued growth as more infrastructure is required to support artificial intelligence's resource-heavy nature. It’s unclear why Microsoft has decided not to go ahead with the project given the intense scrutiny Big Tech is facing over energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Compared with the land-based counterpart, more servers remained active and functional in the subsea system, highlighting the impact of the sea’s stable temperature on the electronics.

Microsoft added: “While we don’t currently have data centers in the water, we will continue to use Project Natick as a research platform to explore, test, and validate new concepts around data center reliability and sustainability, for example with liquid immersion.”

Microsoft declined to comment.

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