A research project to determine the feasibility of subsea datacenters

Project Natick seeks to understand the benefits and difficulties in deploying subsea datacenters worldwide. We did so by designing, building, and deploying our own subsea datacenter in the ocean, all in about a year. This is the story of the Leona Philpot and Project Natick.

The Team

Shot of the Natick Team. From left to right: Eric Peterson, Spencer Fowers, Norm Whitaker, Ben Cutler, Jeff Kramer

The Natick Team: Eric Peterson, Spencer Fowers, Norm Whitaker, Ben Cutler, Jeff Kramer. (left to right)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Project Natick?
Project Natick is a Microsoft research project to manufacture and operate an underwater datacenter. The initial experimental prototype vessel, christened the Leona Philpot after a popular Xbox game character, was operated on the seafloor approximately one kilometer off the Pacific coast of the United States from August to November of 2015. Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud datacenter solutions that offer rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and are more environmentally sustainable.
Why Project Natick?
  • Cloud computing continues to grow in importance, both as a driver of economic growth and as a consumer of global resources.

  • Project Natick is focused on a cloud future that can help better serve customers in areas which are near large bodies of water (where nearly 50% of society resides). The vision of operating containerized datacenters offshore near major population centers anticipates a highly interactive future requiring data resources located close to users. Deepwater deployment offers ready access to cooling, renewable power sources, and a controlled environment.
What are the customer benefits of Project Natick?
  • Rapid provisioning: Ability to deploy a datacenter from start to finish in 90 days.
    • Enables rapid response to market demand, quick deployment for natural disasters and special events such as World Cup.

  • Latency: Latency is how long it takes data to travel between its source and destination. Half of the world’s population lives within 200 km of the ocean so placing datacenters offshore increases the proximity of the datacenter to the population dramatically reducing latency and providing better responsiveness.
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.
During our deployment of the Leona Philpot vessel, sea life in the local vicinity quickly adapted to the presence of the vessel.
How will underwater datacenters be powered?
Project Natick’s Leona Philpot was powered by the land-based power grid during the 2015 deployment. It’s still early days yet, but we envision that future subsea datacenters will be powered by renewable marine energy sources such as offshore wind, wave, tide, or current.
How was the Project Natick underwater datacenter connected to the network: cable, wireless, or something else?
There are many subsea cables which allow the Internet to span the oceans, connecting devices and datacenters around the world. Project Natick’s Leona Philpot was also connected via a cable to land and then to the Internet.
When will Natick datacenters be more widely available in a product?
Project Natick is currently at the research stage. It’s still early days in evaluating whether this concept could be adopted by Microsoft and other cloud service providers.
How long is it designed to last down there?
A Natick datacenter deployment is intended to last up to 5 years, which is the anticipated lifespan of the computers contained within. After each 5-year deployment cycle, the datacenter would be retrieved, reloaded with new computers, and redeployed. The target lifespan of a Natick datacenter is at least 20 years. After that, the datacenter is designed to be retrieved and recycled.
What does the name Natick mean?
Natick is a codename and carries no special meaning. It is a town in Massachusetts.
 

One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.

André Gide French author and Nobel Prize winner

The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.

Robert Swan

There's a way to do it better - find it.



Thomas Edison

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.



Marshall McLuhan

It always seems impossible until it's done.



Nelson Mandela

Natick Timeline

It all started in 2013 when Microsoft employee, Sean James, who served on a US Navy submarine, co-authored a ThinkWeek Paper. Norm Whitaker read the paper and built a team to explore the idea of placing computers or even entire datacenters in water. In late 2014, Microsoft kicked off Project Natick. The rest is history.

Initial White Paper

A Microsoft white paper comes to the attention of senior leaders. It describes an underwater datacenter, powered by renewable ocean energy.

02/13

Project Natick Begins

Project begins with kickoff meeting in Redmond.

08/14

Project Natick Operational

The Leona Philpot is christened and deployed off the coast of California.

Peter Lee christens the Leona Philpot with a bottle of champaign
08/15

Testing

The Leona Philpot system is thoroughly tested and monitored.

The graphs scroll by showing what's going on in the system below the ocean

Project Natick returns to Redmond

After a very successful series of tests, the Leona Philpot is lifted out of the water and is brought back to Redmond for analysis and refitting.

The Leona Philpot is on a truck being driven down a highway
12/15

What's Next?

Look for more information here soon!

The Leona Philpot arrives in the night

Our Locations

Headquarters:
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052

Deployment:
Somewhere off the Pacific coast
General Inquiries: natick@microsoft.com
Media Inquiries: natick-media@microsoft.com
Project Natick Press Kit