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.
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.