How to build a data-centre underwater

水下更好 Better down where it’s wetter-书迷号

EARLIER THIS year a ship hauled a large, barnacle-covered cylinder sporting a Microsoft logo from the seas off the Orkney islands. Inside were a dozen server racks, of the sort found in data-centres around the world. Sunk in 2018, and connected to the shore by cable, the computers had spent the past couple of years humming away, part of an experiment into the feasibility of building data-centres underwater.

On September 14th Microsoft revealed some results. The aquatic data-centre suffered equipment failures at just one-eighth the rate of those built on land. Being inaccessible to humans, the firm could fill it with nitrogen instead of air, cutting down corrosion. The lack of human visitors also meant none of the bumping and jostling that can cause faults on land.

Microsoft hopes some of the lessons can be applied to existing, land-based data-centres. In the longer term, though, it notes that building underwater offers advantages beyond just reliability. Immersion in seawater helps with cooling, a big expense on land. Data-centres work best when placed close to customers. Land in New York or London is expensive, but nearby sea-floor is cheap. More than half the world’s population lives within 120 miles (192km) of the sea. Ben Cutler, the engineer in charge of the project, says submarine data-centres could be co-located with offshore wind farms as “anchor” customers. The cylinder fits in a standard shipping container, so could be deployed to remote places like islands, or even disaster areas to support relief efforts. Water and electronics, it seems, do sometimes mix.■
微软希望实验得出的一些经验可以应用于现有的陆上数据中心。不过微软指出,长远来看水下数据中心的优势不仅仅在于可靠性。浸在海水中有利于机器冷却,这在陆地上是一笔不小的费用。数据中心在位置靠近客户时效果最佳。纽约或伦敦寸土寸金,但附近的海底价格低廉。全球超过一半的人口居住在距海岸120英里(192公里)以内的地方。负责该项目的工程师本·卡特勒(Ben Cutler)表示,海底数据中心可以作为“固定”客户和海上风电场建在一起。这个圆柱体能装进标准船运集装箱,因此可以部署到岛屿等偏远地区,甚至放到灾区支持救援工作。这么看来,水和电子设备有时也能混在一块儿。