Microsoft delves deeper into underwater datacentres at offshore wind farms

Microsoft could site subsea datacentres at offshore wind farms after proving the key IT facilities can run effectively below the water powered by renewable energy.

The US technology giant said it is considering the potential next step following a successful two-year trial of a container packed with servers 36-metres down on the seabed off Orkney, northern Scotland.

Microsoft said its Special Projects team is now looking at scenarios such as co-“locating an underwater datacenter with an offshore windfarm. Even in light winds, there would likely be enough power for the datacenter”.

Microsoft today separately announced a link-up with UK oil supermajor BP – which is moving into offshore wind – to supply renewable power to its global datacentre fleet.

The software giant said underwater deployment with offshore wind and other marine renewable generators could allow datacentres to be located near major population centres on the world’s coasts, boosting data capacity to support burgeoning use of cloud-based web services.

“We are seeing more and more need to have smaller datacentres located closer to customers instead of these large warehouse datacentres out in the middle of nowhere,” said Microsoft.

The Orkney underwater datacentre deployment, called Project Natick, was powered by a local grid that runs purely on wind or solar, or by experimental marine energy systems at the local European Marine Energy Centre.

Microsoft revealed the two-year trial showed a server failure rate eight-times better than a land-based facility – potentially because of a nitrogen-based atmosphere that’s less corrosive than oxygen, and the lack of people to accidentally jostle the equipment.

The US software giant aims to have its facilities 100% powered by renewables by 2025 on the way to becoming a “carbon negative” business by 2030.

IT datacentres have emerged as a key market for renewable energy projects seeking to sell their green power directly to corporate users, with Microsoft on a list of major IT-based purchasers of wind and solar that also includes the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon.