The Data Submarine

For some reason, this came to mind: under the sea, under the sea. That’s what I thought of as I was reading about Microsoft sinking a data center. There are probably jokes to be made about Microsoft and sinking, though they’re less humorous as the company’s stock price has risen quite a bit in the last few years.

The is a research project from Microsoft on future data center design. Using modular devices that can be submerged for years at a time, only having a connection for power and data back to the surface. These are designed as sealed environments, without the creature comforts needed in data centers for human technicians. The systems inside are built to live on their own, using the water for cooling the heat generated by computations.

There won’t be any repairs or replacements for failures. With the equivalent of twelve racks of servers in the system, I wonder how long they will list. I find it interesting that the experiment is designed for a year, though the device should have a timeline of 5 years. Does that mean that Microsoft expects current hardware to last for five years? Is that the new lifecycle of modern chips and storage? Or perhaps they find the lifecycle is shorter, but this is more a test of the extreme lifetime that they expect and they’ll track and chart the failures across time of components? I expect they already know some of the expected lifetime of hardware from their massive Azure data centers, which they can compare to this environment.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that might see smaller, modular data centers spread around bodies of water where there is enough movement to carry heat away. This should reduce power consumption, as less is needed for cooling. This can also reduce latency, with devices perhaps located closer to clients for heavy compute capabilities or even content delivery.

I’m not sure these will work at larger scales, as heat attracts life, with plant and animals potentially migrating to be near the submersibles. Who knows if were would be interference with operations, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some level of maintenance is needed. We might see the rise of a new type of job, like undersea gardener or window washer that keeps the submarines clear of encroaching biology.

Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Roomba-like automated devices that put many of these humans out of work.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to The Data Submarine

  1. Chris Fair says:

    One thing that comes to mind is security. How easy would it be for a foreign entity, or even just a small, rogue group, to just cut the power and data cables or set off a small explosive big enough to compromise the integrity of the structure? I think it would be fairly easy to determine where these structures are located and then disrupt their operations. I like the outside the box thinking, but I just don’t know how practical a solution this is.

  2. way0utwest says:

    I worry less about state actors, but I do think vandalism, or just annoyed fisherman/divers might be a problem.

    I agree. It’s good to experiment and see if this is helpful. However, is it practical? Maybe. Depends on physical integrity over time and resiliency of links. Keep in mind we have lots of undersea cables, any of which is susceptible and could disrupt lots of access to parts of the world and these haven’t been targeted that I’m aware of. Plus if there are many of these, not 1 or 2, then targeting them might not really be that useful as a disruptive strategy.

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