China unveils underwater data center in Zhuhai
Published 14 January 2021
China has unveiled the country’s first underwater data center project in the Guangdong Province of Zhuhai.
According to Chinese state media China News Service (CNS), the underwater data center project is led by maritime technology company Beijing Highlander. The data center, containing racks of servers, will be sealed in an airtight vessel and will be submerged near a port in Zhuhai.
Xu Tan, Vice President of Beijing Highlander, told CNS that a large data center with an annual economic volume that exceeds $46 billion (300 billion yuan) is vital to building new infrastructure in the country. As such, it is scientifically the most effective to power data centers via underwater resources in offshore waters, Xu said.
Beijing Highlander also revealed that it plans to carry out and build more underwater data center projects over the next five years across the Greater China region, including the Yangtze River Delta, the Hainan Free Trade Port, and Guangong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.
Underwater DC wave
This development comes on the heels of a September announcement by Microsoft, which were along these lines. Microsoft’s Project Natick team deployed the Northern Isles datacenter 117 feet deep to the seafloor in spring 2018. Since then, team members tested and monitored the performance and reliability of the datacenter’s servers.
The team hypothesized that a sealed container on the ocean floor could provide ways to improve the overall reliability of data centers. On land, corrosion from oxygen and humidity, temperature fluctuations and bumps and jostles from people who replace broken components are all variables that can contribute to equipment failure.
The Northern Isles deployment confirmed their hypothesis, which could have implications for data centers on land, in the future.
Lessons learned from Project Natick also are informing Microsoft’s data center sustainability strategy around energy, waste and water, said Ben Cutler, a project manager in Microsoft’s Special Projects research group who leads Project Natick.
What’s more, he added, the proven reliability of underwater data centers has prompted discussions with a Microsoft team in Azure that’s looking to serve customers who need to deploy and operate tactical and critical data centers anywhere in the world.
“We are populating the globe with edge devices, large and small,” said William Chappell, vice president of mission systems for Azure in a blog piece. “To learn how to make data centers reliable enough not to need human touch is a dream of ours.”