Microsoft tests underwater data center at Cal Poly Pier

Between August and November of last year, technology giant Microsoft visited the Central Coast to conduct research on the feasibility of submerging data centers underwater to lower system cooling costs and to increase Web speed one day for millions of users worldwide.

Typically, electronics and water don’t mix. But the company tested the viability of submerging sealed computing equipment, a test datacenter, in the ocean water off the Cal Poly Pier in Avila Beach.

The company wanted to know if the ocean can effectively serve as a cooling system for data centers, referred to as cloud servers, that transmit video streams, social networking, email and other digital communications. A 38,000-pound container protected the technology from the ocean elements. The cloud server contained computing power equivalent to 300 desktop computers.

The research, dubbed Project Natick, tested a 10-foot-by-7-foot capsule submerged about 30 feet underwater off the pier for 105 days. Microsoft christened the capsule Leona Philpot, a nod to a character in the company’s “Halo” video game. (A curious choice, since Philpot’s back story is that she broke her neck while diving into a pool before being anointed homecoming queen as she recovered in a wheelchair through spinal column regeneration.)

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