Is the cloud headed underwater? Why Microsoft thinks it's possible

The company left a tube full of computer servers on the ocean floor for two years.

Andy Altman Director of Video Production
Andy Altman is a producer covering all things science and tech. He led production on CNET's award-winning limited documentary series Hacking the Apocalypse. He also created and co-hosts our video series What the Future.
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Andy Altman

Microsoft has wrapped up a two-year experiment testing the sustainability of underwater data centers. And the results suggest our data could lie under the sea in the not too distant future.

In the spring of 2018, team members from Project Natick deployed a massive tube filled with nitrogen in 117 feet of water off Scotland's Orkney Islands. Inside were racks of running computer servers that team members monitored for the next two years. They wanted to see if a controlled environment, free of corrosive oxygen and humidity, as well as bumps and shakes from human interaction, increased server reliability.


This data center enclosed in a massive tube sat off the coast of Scotland's Orkney Islands.


"All that happens on land. But in an ocean data center, we're kind of free from all that." Natick lead engineer Spencer Fowers told CNET.  By the end of the experiment, Fowers and his team found the underwater servers failed at a rate of about one-eighth compared with Microsoft's land-based servers.

Microsoft chose the Orkney Islands in part because the energy grid there is powered completely by wind and solar, as well as other experimental green energies.

Watch the video above to learn more about the benefits Project Natick may have uncovered in underwater data centers and about the environmental impacts.