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Microsoft has a crazy project to build massive data centres under the sea

Satya NadellaAndrew Harrer/BloombergMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Microsoft Research, the 1,000-strong scientific research arm of Microsoft, is investigating whether it is possible to put data centres deep under the sea, according to The New York Times.

The project, code-named Natick, would submerge data centres under water, using fibre optics to transfer to data back to land.

Due to the computer’s processing power, data centres need a lot of cooling — which is why Facebook and Google build them in cold Nordic countries — and the depths of the sea provide this for free.

According to the report, Microsoft is still in the early stages of testing the technology which could, if effective, reduce the time it takes to build a data centre from two years to 90 days. A 105-day-long trial, which submerged pods about 30-feet below the water line, was more successful than expected.

The company is looking at two potential designs: A data centre located on the sea floor, or placing the centres in pods that are suspended under the surface that then use turbines to capture energy from the currents.

“When I first heard about this I thought, ‘Water … electricity, why would you do that?'” said Ben Cutlet, a Microsoft computer designer, in an interview with The New York Times. “But as you think more about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.”

Data centres are used for a myriad of different purposes — such as hosting online video or software — and big internet companies have sought out-of-the-way locations to build them, such as Iceland.

According to Microsoft, the company currently operates over 100 data centres around the world and is looking to build new ones in Europe. The New York Times reports Microsoft has spent over $15 billion (£10 billion) on data centres globally.

The first pod to go beneath the surface, called Leona Philpot (a character from video game “Halo”), recently returned to the surface and is being checked by Microsoft in an effort to improve the design.

Microsoft is looking for a partner to design the pod in the future, according to the report, but has not yet found a suitable candidate.

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