Microsoft dismantles its underwater data centers

The tech giant has discontinued its quest to use the sea floor for its data centers, even though the machinery was thriving underwater.

In 2018, Microsoft sank large tubes measuring 14.3 meters in length and 12.7 meters in width to house data centers deep in the North Sea. It was part of Project Natick, an initiative exploring the potential of oceans and seas as viable locations for data centers.

Fueled by wind and solar power from onshore plants, the tube-shaped data center was as powerful as several thousand high-end consumer PCs and had enough storage capacity for about 5 million movies.

Findings after two years revealed that the underwater conditions were highly favorable for computers. Keeping servers separate from humans allowed data centers to be filled with nitrogen instead of oxygen, which improved maintenance.

This resulted in underwater data centers experiencing only one-eighth of the failure rate of land-based data centers with identical components.

Despite the results indicating success, in 2024, Microsoft has no data centers underwater.

"I'm not building subsea data centers anywhere in the world," Noelle Walsh, the head of Microsoft’s Cloud Operations and Innovation division, told the news outlet DatacenterDynamics.

Microsoft underwater data center
Source: Microsoft

"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."

Microsoft stated it will continue to use Project Natick as a research platform to “explore, test, and validate new concepts” around data center reliability and sustainability.

Data centres insatiable need for energy

Cloud services provided by big tech companies are creating a huge demand for the expansion of data center networks. Which also increases

According to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the combined global energy demand from data centers, AI, and crypto is projected to more than double by 2026.

Energy consumption is projected to rise from 460 TWh in 2022 to 1,050 TWh, a figure comparable to Japan's total energy consumption.

Energy-hungry data centers are causing concern about their impact on climate change. The expansion of AI also requires huge computational powers and fuels the building of data centers, while the clean energy question remains unanswered.

Speaking with Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman admitted that the energy requirements of AI technology are still underestimated. He suggested that achieving his vision for AI would need an "energy breakthrough," which he believes would happen, although he did not provide concrete evidence.