How Microsoft saved its underwater datacenter linked whereas retrieving it from the ocean

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When Microsoft introduced its plan to construct an underwater datacenter, Lathish Kumar Chaparala was excited.

“Throughout the preliminary rollout of Venture Natick, I used to go browsing to their web site and watch the stay feed of the underwater digital camera that was mounted on the datacenter,” says Chaparala, a senior program supervisor on the networking group in Core Providers Engineering and Operations (CSEO), the engineering group at Microsoft that builds and manages the merchandise, processes, and providers that Microsoft runs on.

Little did he know that he and his group would later be introduced in to increase the community connectivity of this underwater datacenter so it could possibly be safely fished out of the ocean.

However the story begins a lot sooner than that.

We noticed the potential profit [of developing an underwater datacenter] to the trade and Microsoft. Folks responded to our work as if we had been going to the moon. In our eyes, we had been simply fulfilling our constitution—taking over difficult issues and arising with an answer.

– Mike Shepperd, senior analysis and growth engineer on the Microsoft Analysis group

The concept of an underwater datacenter got here out of ThinkWeek, a Microsoft occasion the place staff shared out-of-the-box concepts that they thought the corporate ought to pursue. One inventive thought was put forth by worker Sean James, who proposed constructing an underwater datacenter powered by renewable ocean vitality that would supply super-fast cloud providers to crowded coastal populations.

His thought appealed to Norm Whitaker, who led particular initiatives for Microsoft Analysis on the time.

Out of this, Project Natick was born.

Shepperd (proper) and Samuel Ogden check the underwater datacenter from the ability substation the place the datacenter connects to land, simply off the coast of the Orkney Islands. (Picture by Scott Eklund | Pink Field Footage)

“Norm’s group was liable for making the unattainable potential, so he began exploring the viability of an underwater datacenter that could possibly be powered by renewable vitality,” says Mike Shepperd, a senior analysis and growth engineer on the Microsoft Analysis group who was introduced on to help analysis on the feasibility of underwater datacenters.

It shortly grew to become a Microsoft-wide effort that spanned engineering, analysis, and IT.

“We noticed the potential profit to the trade and Microsoft,” Shepperd says. “Folks responded to our work as if we had been going to the moon. In our eyes, we had been simply fulfilling our constitution—taking over difficult issues and arising with options.”

Researchers on the mission hypothesized that having a sealed container on the ocean flooring with a low-humidity nitrogen surroundings and chilly, steady temperatures would higher defend the servers and improve reliability.

“When you’re down 20 to 30 meters into the water, you’re out of the climate,” Shepperd says. “You possibly can have a hurricane raging above you, and an underwater datacenter shall be none the wiser.”

[Read about how Microsoft is reducing its carbon footprint by tracking its internal Microsoft Azure usage. Find out how CSEO is using a modern network infrastructure to drive transformation at Microsoft.]

Inner engineering group steps up

The Venture Natick group partnered with networking and safety groups in CSEO and Arista to create a safe wide-area community (WAN) connection from the underwater datacenter to the company community.

“We would have liked the connectivity that they supplied to complete off our mission in the correct means,” Shepperd says. “We additionally wanted that connectivity to help the precise decommissioning course of, which was very difficult as a result of we had deployed the datacenter in such a distant location.”

Within the spring of 2018, they deployed a totally linked and safe datacenter 117 toes beneath sea stage within the Orkney Islands, simply off the coast of Scotland. After it was designed, arrange, and gently lowered onto the seabed, the aim was to go away it untouched for 2 years. Chakri Thammineni, a community engineer in CSEO, supported these efforts.

Chakri Thammineni sits next to his desk and smiles at the camera. His monitor reads “Project Natick– Network Solution.”
Chakri Thammineni, a community engineer in CSEO, and his group got here up with a community redesign to increase the community connectivity of the underwater datacenter. (Picture submitted by Chakri Thammineni | Showcase)

“Venture Natick was my first engagement after I joined Microsoft, and it was an incredible alternative to collaborate with many people to provide you with a community answer,” Thammineni says.

Earlier this yr, the experiment concluded with out interruption. And sure, the group realized that inserting a datacenter underwater is certainly a extra sustainable and environment friendly approach to convey the cloud to coastal areas, offering higher datacenter responsiveness.

With the experiment ending, the group wanted to recuperate the datacenter so it may analyze all the info collected throughout its time underwater.

That’s the place Microsoft’s inside engineering groups got here in.

“To ensure we didn’t lose any knowledge, we wanted to maintain the datacenter linked to Microsoft’s company community throughout our extraction,” Shepperd says. “We achieved this with a leased line devoted to our use, one which we used to attach the datacenter with our Microsoft facility in London.”

The extraction additionally needed to be timed good for a similar causes.

“The seas in Orkney throw up waves that may be as a lot as 9 to 10 meters excessive for many of the yr,” he says. “The group selected this location due to the intense situations, reasoning it was a great place to reveal the flexibility to deploy Natick datacenters nearly anyplace.”

After which, prefer it has for therefore many different initiatives, COVID-19 pressured the group to alter its plans. Within the strategy of arising with a brand new datacenter restoration plan, the group realized that the company connectivity was being shut down on the finish of Might 2020 and couldn’t be prolonged.

“Ordering the gear would’ve taken two to a few months, and we had been on a a lot shorter timeline,” Chaparala says.

Shepperd referred to as on the group in Core Platform Engineering, a division of CSEO, to shortly rework the company connectivity from the Microsoft London facility to the Natick shore space, all whereas guaranteeing that the connection was secured.

The mission?

Be certain that servers had been on-line till the datacenter could possibly be retrieved from the water, all with out extra {hardware}.

Lathish Chaparala sits with his laptop in front of him and looks at the camera.
Lathish Kumar Chaparala, a senior program supervisor on the networking group in Core Providers Engineering and Operations, helped prolong community connectivity of Microsoft’s underwater datacenter so it could possibly be safely retrieved from the ocean. (Picture submitted by Lathish Kumar Chaparala | Showcase)

“My function was to ensure I understood the criticality of the request by way of timeline, and to drag within the groups and experience wanted to maintain the datacenter on-line till it was safely pulled out of the water,” Chaparala says.

The stakes had been excessive, particularly with the analysis that was on the road.

“If we misplaced connectivity and shut down the datacenter, it may have compromised the viability of the analysis we had executed up till that time,” Shepperd says.

A seamless collaboration throughout Microsoft Analysis and IT

To resolve this downside, the groups in Core Platform Engineering and Microsoft Analysis needed to align their imaginative and prescient and workflows.

“Groups in IT may plan their work out for months or years prematurely,” Shepperd says. “Our analysis is on a special timeline as a result of we don’t know the place know-how will take us, so we wanted to work collectively, and quick.”

As a result of they couldn’t convey any {hardware} to the datacenter web site, Chaparala, Thammineni, and the Microsoft Analysis group wanted to provide you with a community redesign. This led to the implementation of software-based encryption utilizing a digital community working system on Home windows digital machines.

It’s thrilling to play a job in bringing the correct engineers and program managers collectively for a typical aim, particularly so shortly. As soon as we had the correct group, we knew there was nothing we couldn’t deal with.

– Chakri Thammineni, a community engineer in Core Providers Engineering and Operations

With this answer in tow, the group may prolong the community connectivity from the Microsoft Docklands facility in London to the Natick datacenter off the coast of Scotland.

“Chakri and Lathish have persistently engaged with us to fill the gaps between what our analysis group knew and what these networking specialists at Microsoft wanted with a purpose to take motion on the wants of this mission,” Shepperd says. “With out assist from their groups, we might not have been in a position to ship on our analysis targets as shortly and effectively as we did.”

Classes realized from the world’s second underwater datacenter

The research on Project Natick pays dividends in Microsoft’s future work, notably round operating extra sustainable datacenters that would energy Microsoft Azure cloud providers.

“Whether or not a datacenter is on land or in water, the dimensions and scale of Venture Natick is a viable blueprint for datacenters of the longer term,” Shepperd says. “As an alternative of placing down acres of land for datacenters, our clients and opponents are all searching for methods to energy their compute and to deal with storage in a extra sustainable means.”

This expertise taught Chaparala to evaluate the wants of his associate groups.

“We work with clients to grasp their necessities and provide you with goals and key outcomes that align,” Chaparala says.

Finally, Venture Natick’s story is one in all cross-disciplinary collaboration – and simply within the nick of time.

“It’s thrilling to play a job in bringing the correct engineers and program managers collectively for a typical aim, particularly so shortly,” Chaparala says. “As soon as we had the correct group, we knew there was nothing we couldn’t deal with.”

Watch this video about Microsoft’s findings from Project Natick, the experimental undersea datacenter.

Learn how Microsoft rebuilt its VPN infrastructure.

Find out how CSEO is using a modern network infrastructure to drive transformation at Microsoft.

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