Naval Group collaborates with Microsoft to deploy underwater data centre

Picture courtesy of Naval Group

Naval Group is supporting Microsoft towards its objective to build, deploy and operate an underwater data centre that cools itself by being immersed under ocean waters.

The data centre is contained in a submersible cylindrical system inspired by the underwater constructions of Naval Group. A triangular base (also called Subsea Docking Structure), ensures the positioning of the data centre at the bottom of the ocean. A dual air-water system enables cooling of the datacenter, thus taking advantage of the temperature of the underwater environment.

According to Microsoft, Phase 2 of Project Natick tests the practical aspects of deploying a full-scale data centre under harsher conditions compared to Phase 1 back in 2015. That phase involved a smaller prototype being placed in shallow waters off the coast of California.

The Phase 2 of Microsoft immersed data centre project, also called Project Natick, was successfully deployed in early June 2018 off the Orkney Archipelago, and will be operated “lights-out” for a period of one year.

A lights out data centre is a server or computer room that is physically or geographically isolated, thereby limiting environmental fluctuations and human access. Unnecessary energy used for lighting and for maintaining a proper climate around frequently used doors can be saved by going lights out. Phase 2 Natick is an extreme example, with no human presence for the entire deployment of one year.

Naval Group, with the support of its subsidiary Naval Energies, carried out this project, which involved the sites of Nantes-Indret (design), Cherbourg (model tests), Lorient (subsea base manufacturing) and Brest (design and manufacturing of the pressure vessel).

Eric Papin, Naval Group’s director of innovation and technological expertise, said the collaboration brought Naval Group’s expertise on design, implementation, deployment and maintenance of innovative projects in maritime environments to the service of Microsoft.

“Naval Group has always invested in research and development, most recently in Marine Renewable Energies. We are pleased to participate in Microsoft’s vision for a clean energy future,” he said.

Ben Cutler, Natick project manager at Microsoft Research said Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud data centre solutions that offer less resource intensive options, rapid provisioning, lower costs, and high agility in meeting customer needs.

“A key advantage is getting closer to our customers: half the world’s population lives within 200 km of the sea, so placing data centres offshore increases the proximity of the cloud to the population, reducing latency and providing better responsiveness. And by deploying in the water we benefit from ready access to cooling – reducing the requirement for energy for cooling by up to 95 per cent,”Cutler said.

Naval Group’s deep expertise in innovative marine technologies, including renewables, makes it an ideal choice for collaboration on Phase 2’s design, fabrication, and deployment of a standard, manufacturable, rapidly deployable datacenter,” he added,