Why Microsoft just installed a data center on the seafloor for Project Natick

Microsoft is experimenting with underwater data centers that could cut cooling costs and provide faster internet connections to the billions of people who live near oceans.


In the second phase of a years-long pilot project, Microsoft has installed an underwater data center in the North Sea near Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

Microsoft has been experimenting with its subsea data center technology, dubbed Project Natick, for two reasons: cooling efficiency and latency.

The 854 servers in the shipping container-sized data center are cooled by the cold waters found near the seafloor. Cooling is a major cost in any large-scale computing operation, so the ocean’s naturally low temperatures reduce the money and energy needed to maintain the servers that connect other computers to the internet.

“When I first heard about this I thought, “Water…electricity, why would you do that?’” said Ben Cutler, the project manager who led the team behind the experiment, in a story about the project on Microsoft’s new site. “But as you think more about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.”

Project Natick is currently in its second phase, in which the data center is still physically hooked up to an onshore, renewable power source. Currently, the centers are expected to run without maintenance for 5 years.

Microsoft hopes to eventually create underwater technology that cuts ties with onshore power altogether.

“Future Natick research will explore directly powering a Natick datacenter by a co-located ocean-based green power system, such as offshore wind or tide, with no grid connection,” reads an entry on the Microsoft website.

On the consumer side, subsea data centers could bring faster, smoother connection for internet users. That’s because having servers near your computer reduces latency, defined as the time it takes data to travel between its source and destination.

Microsoft notes that more than half of the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the coast, and submerging a prepackaged data center in the ocean would be easier than constructing a land-based facility.

Placing datacenters offshore increases the proximity of the datacenter to the population, dramatically reducing latency and providing better responsiveness,” Microsoft’s entry reads. “Signals travel around 200 km/millisecond across the Internet, so if you are 200 km away one round trip to the datacenter takes about 2 milliseconds but if you are 4000 km away each round trip takes 40 milliseconds.”


It’s not the first time a tech company has tried to leverage nature to offset costs. In 2011, Microsoft experimented with the ‘data furnace’ concept, which aims to heat homes using the heat generated by servers. In 2013, Facebook began utilizing the frigid temperatures of northern Sweden to cool its Luleå data center.

This week’s development comes 4 years after Project Natrick launched. Microsoft notes that its subsea technology isn’t close to replacing the land-based data centers that connect most of the world to the internet.

Still, the economic and environmental perks of subsea data centers could someday encourage companies to implement the technology on a large scale.

“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,” Microsoft said.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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