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Undersea data centres at offshore wind farms: What you need to know

Adam Chaumeton our consultant managing the role
Published on 29 October 2020
In 2019, the global data centre market was valued at $31.4 billion and that number is expected to almost double by 2025. The thriving market isn’t resting on its laurels but instead is looking to renewable energy to improve the efficiency of its operations. Despite computers being created for our environment, the machines operate far better in other conditions and there are a whole host of benefits of housing data centres at offshore wind farms. Unsurprisingly, having server farms run off green electricity reduces the impact on the environment but research shows that the new location can be more efficient than land-based facilities. Want to know more about undersea data centres at offshore wind farms?

The data centre boom

Research group, Synergy, revealed the number of hyperscale data centres around the globe has surpassed the 500-mark, with 38% of those facilities based in the US. Hyperscale defines a data centre as one which has over 5,000 servers packed into an area of 10,000 square foot, so that figure doesn’t account for the smaller data centres which are still in their infancy and growth stages. The surge in the amount of data generated and consumed combined with the growing demand for cloud services has spurred companies to design more innovative data centres and trial sustainable options.

How does an undersea data centre work?

Though underwater data centres aren’t a novel concept, since Microsoft pulled their data centre from Scottish waters, news of Project Natick has dominated headlines. For two years, the servers have sat 36-metres deep, encased in a shipping container where the currents of the sea have acted as a natural cooling system. Microsoft reported the data centre to have a failure rate eight times smaller than a land-based centre. As for costs, an underwater server farm saves money from both construction and cooling – which is a huge expense for data centres and for the environment too.

With this in mind, Sean James – an engineer at Microsoft – took the concept one step further. He proposed installing these data centres at offshore wind farms. Most data centres are currently located in regions where electricity is cheap, the climate is naturally cool and the construction will have minimal impact on nearby residents. With the help of fellow Microsoft engineer, Todd Rawlings, James was able to demonstrate how an offshore wind farm was the perfect place to house the data centres. Data centres have managed to keep up with demand during Covid-19 and now attention has shifted towards the sustainability of these facilities.

What does this mean for carbon neutrality?

The ongoing undersea data centres project is a part of Microsoft’s pledge to be carbon negative by 2030. While the UK has set a legally binding target to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the software giant is confident they can outweigh the amount of carbon they produce with the volume they remove from the atmosphere. As Microsoft takes further steps in line with its commitment to sustainability, other technology powerhouses - including Apple - are taking stock and investing in renewable energy options. This is great news for the environment and a joyous display of corporate social responsibility.

The growing skills shortage

So, what does all this mean for the job market? The demand for data shows no signs of slowing and the same can be said for qualified data centre employees. The industry is at an enviable yet challenging stage where the rate of new jobs created is exceeding the speed at which people can be trained, resulting in a data centre skills shortage. Synergy has its eye on an additional 151 hyperscale data centres that are under construction and there’s no reason to believe that expansion plans will stop there. Considering that each of these centres has the capacity to employ hundreds of people the number of data centre jobs in the making runs well into the thousands. 

Searching for a data centre job?

Data centres are just that – a centre of everything that the digital world does. But keeping servers safe from security breaches and overheating is a complex job that demands the skills of qualified data centre employees. We recruit professionals across all areas, including management, design, security, software development and technical support. Take a look at our latest data centre jobs or learn more about how ICT recruitment was where it all began at Quanta.