Microsoft equipment at EMEC test site

MicrosoftThe European Marine Energy Centre is a test site for experimental tidal turbines and wave energy converters that generate electricity from the movement of seawater. Tidal currents there travel up to nine miles per hour at peak intensity and the sea surface regularly roils with 3m waves that whip up to more than 18m in stormy conditions.

A cable from the Orkney Island grid sends electricity to the datacenter, which requires just under a quarter of a MW of power when operating at full capacity.

Colocation with marine renewable energy is a step toward realising Microsoft’s vision of datacenters with their own sustainable power supply, explained Christian Belady, general manager of cloud infrastructure strategy and architecture in Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise division.

Energy self-sufficient datacenters, he noted, could be deployed anywhere within reach of a data pipe, bringing Azure cloud services, for example, to regions of the world with unreliable electricity, and eliminate the need for costly backup generators in case of power grid failures.

“The most joyful moment of the day was when the datacenter finally slipped beneath the surface on its slow, carefully scripted journey,” said Microsoft Research Project Natick lead Ben Cutler. Once the datacenter made it to the seafloor, the shackles were released, winch cables hauled to the surface and operational control of the Northern Isles passed to the shore station.

“Our vision is to be able to deploy compute rapidly anywhere on the planet as needed by our customers,” said Belady, who has long advocated research that explores the marriage of datacenters and energy generation to simplify and accelerate the build out of cloud computing infrastructure.

The underwater datacenter concept was originally presented in a white paper prepared for a Microsoft event called ThinkWeek that encourages employees to share out-of-the-box ideas.

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