Is the cloud moving to the sea?
Is the cloud moving to the sea?

In this week's Exponential Chats, some of the team members responsible for Amalgam's development will have a chat about Microsoft's Project codenamed Natick which was an attempt of sustainably running a Data Center underwater. After 2 years of deployment, Microsoft is claiming that their servers were up to 8 times more reliable than their counterparts on land. Is that an indication that the cloud is actually moving to the sea? Come join us and participate by asking questions or giving your opinion in the live chat.

- Adriano Marques is the founder and CEO of Exponential Ventures.
- Fernando Camargo is a Data Scientist with in-depth machine learning expertise and wide-ranging experience in software engineering.
- Nathan Martins is a Machine Learning/DevOps Engineer at Exponential Ventures, where he works on projects to democratize AI, as well as other cutting edge innovations.
- Harlei Vicente is a Senior software architect specialized in creating great experiences for the end user and optimizing interfaces for desktop and mobile.

If the idea of the Clouds somehow moving from the sky to the sea made you confused, don’t worry. We’re not talking about clouds in the sky, but rather the concept of cloud infrastructure for internet services going from land installations to underwater installations. Ok, I admit. Even if you thought of the right cloud, this is probably still confusing. Why would anyone go through the trouble of trying to run computers 200 meters deep in the ocean?

Let’s break this down quickly. There are four single major infrastructural challenges when it comes to building data centers for the cloud.

The first one is power. A typical Data Center will house tens of thousands of servers. The typical cloud data center will consume no less than 10MW of power. That is enough energy to power about 6500 average homes, and managing all that power is a big challenge.

The second challenge is, therefore heat. Computers generate a lot of it in the process of converting energy into computing activities. The more power a data center consumes, the more heat it generates. Unfortunately, computers are not able to reliably operate at high temperatures, which requires engineers to employ cooling solutions capable of keeping them cool. But there are no free lunches in the world of data centers. When you turn on a giant air conditioner to cool off 10MW worth of servers, you may end up requiring another 10MW of power if your solution is particularly inefficient.

The third challenge is space. All of those machines require a vast amount of real state, and the A/C not only is required to cool the equipment it will also be required to cool the air inside the structure, requiring more power and a bigger cooling system.

The fourth challenge is people. These machines are bound to fail at some point, requiring a human to enter the data center to repair the equipment. If humans come in, they typically need oxygen to survive. And wherever oxygen is, there are two problems that follow: Oxidation and Fires.

The community has discussed for years about a true lights out data center solution in which humans are never required to access the computers at any point, but none of the proposed solutions were quite feasible or economically sound.

Then came Microsoft with the idea of sinking the datacenter deep into the ocean to tap into the massive amount of cool water to decrease cooling power requirements and remove all oxygen from inside the datacenter, completely eliminating the risk of fires and increasing the lifespan of the servers by reducing oxidation.

On its face, it seems that this is a crazy idea, but 2 months ago Microsoft brought back to the surface a Data Center they sunk into the north sea 2 years ago and left it running since then and compared the reliability of these servers against an identical data center they maintained on land. Amongst their findings, they learned that not only the underwater data center was more sustainable and faster to deploy but it was 8 times more reliable than its land counterpart. Which prompted our team to ask: is the cloud moving to the sea?

Exponential Chats is a live event conducted by our parent company, Exponential Ventures. In this event, our team members and guests have an in-depth conversation about Exponential Technologies, Entrepreneurship, and some of the world's most challenging outstanding problems.

This live episode will air on Thrusday, September 17th 2020 at 1:00 PM CST. Here is a link to the live event on Youtube: