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January 27, 2023

Underwater Datacenters Might Make for Some Tricky Auditor Walkthroughs

Who says we can’t mix electricity and water? Dangerous… sure. But, hey, why not?

Microsoft is currently testing an underwater data center and it’s kind of genius. It’s in the “why didn’t I think of that” category. Dubbed Project Natick, this cutting-edge innovation is vying to create an out-of-the-box subsea datacenter that can get dropped in the ocean off the coast where you live and be ready to rock and roll. I admit, I am intrigued.

Wait, what if it leaks?

I guess it’s not a huge concern for developers. Thinking of the datacenter like a satellite, they have designed it to be able to withstand an underwater environment. And, if it leaks, the company will just need to run off of its backup…

Now that I am thinking about it, a traditional datacenter has fires and floods to contend with too; and, I doubt as much thought goes into setting up the fire suppression system at a run-of-the-mill datacenter compared to the attention developers have given to the “anti-leak” mechanism on the Project Natick pods.

What’s wrong with a traditional datacenter?

A noisy, jungle of wires that is heavily reliant on air conditioning to keep from overheating…. that’s what. With a subsea datacenter (equipped with a cooling system on outside), cooling is less expensive.

A big disadvantage of a traditional datacenter is that it is usually a big, ugly warehouse in the middle of nowhere. With an underwater alternative, companies would be able to plunk a datacenter closer to their headquarters. Many of the world’s most dense populations exist along the coasts and many countries could benefit from using ocean real estate rather than wasting habitable space with a nondescript datacenter monstrosity.

Microsoft’s project manager, Ben Cutler shared that:

As we [Microsoft] started exploring the space, it started to make more and more sense. We had a mind-bending challenge, but also a chance to push boundaries.

Alright… am I just going to run an extension cord out there?

Obviously… No. I don’t want to get fried and neither does Nemo. Submarine developers seem to have figured it out a long time ago, so it can’t be that hard. In fact, the ocean could provide an awesome renewable energy source (think offshore wind, wave, tide, or current energy according to the Project Natrik homepage).

And, of course, the most pressing question… how do we, as auditors, do a datacenter walkthrough?

I will leave you with that to ponder. Scuba lessons for staff? I have a feeling we will see more in this space in the next couple of years.

Image: iStock/somchaij

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