Microsoft Azure: Tackling data centers' cooling issues

Aug 06, 2021 | Posted by MadalineDunn

According to the principles of Moore’s law, technology will double in its capacity every two years. Although on the technological advancement front this is great news, with increased computer power comes challenges. The main challenge being increased excess heat and the need to cool it. 

A number of different companies are trying to tackle this issue head-on, and as a result, the global data centers cooling market size is projected to reach $11.97 billion in the next five years.

“Data centers don’t actually operate well in the same environment that humans inhabit,” that’s according to Ben Cutler, Project Natick’s director, who has overseen Microsoft’s research into the viability of subsea data centers.

In 2018, Microsoft deployed the Northern Isles datacenter 117 feet deep to the seafloor. There it sat for two years as the datacenter's servers were monitored. The experiment turned out to be incredibly fruitful.

It turns out that submerging data centers underwater could potentially be an environmental and practical place to store facilities. This is because a significant amount of energy is spent on cooling data centers on land (roughly 20%). Yet, when data centers are submerged, seawater can act as a natural coolant, meaning far less energy is drained. 

Back in January 2021, Beijing Highlander Digital Technology Co also launched an underwater data center at Zhuhai, a port in Guangdong. More recently, in May, Hainan Port’s investment Company, Hainan Xintou, announced the launch of its first commercial undersea data center, too.

It’s not just underwater data centers that are addressing data centers’ heat issues either; Nautilus is also leading the way in terms of data center cooling innovation. The data solutions company’s natural cooling technology utilizes the ocean, lakes, rivers, grey, potable, or brackish water with no ecological impact. Subsequently, its Maine facility uses local bodies of water at the Millinocket site for cooling. According to the company, this makes it the “greenest data center globally.”

Green Mountain is another company that stands out in its efforts to tackle the cooling issue innovatively. As Baxtel reported last month, the Norwegian colocation company promotes a circular economy through the agreement it signed with Hima Seafood. The facility heats the trout farm through this collaboration, and then heat exchanger technology returns cool water to cool Green Mountain’s servers.

As the industry pushes forward towards a more sustainable future, it is reassuring that developments are being made in this area. That said, there is still a long way to go, and data center sustainability needs to be a priority going forward if the industry is going to surpass targets for carbon-neutrality by 2050.