The first commercial underwater data center is operating successfully, according to Chinese news reports.

The 1,300-tonne (1,433-ton) module, launched in November and completed on December 31, has maintained stable operation since then, according to a report in the People's Daily.

hi cloud underwater data center crop
– HiCloud

The data center module was installed 35m deep on the seabed off the coast of Lingshui Li County, Hainan Province, by HiCloud, a division of Highlander, the company that developed the data center in tests dating back to 2020.

"The first batch of modules of the undersea data center was launched in December 2022. They are currently running stably," said Pu Ding, general manager of the project. "Compared with servers of the same volume, servers in the modules achieve an overall energy efficiency improvement of 40 to 60 percent, with the advantages of strong computing capability, low energy consumption, high security, and low latency."

Pu told People's Daily the facility uses seawater for cooling and has a higher computing power density than most land-based facilities. As the sealed modules are free of dust and oxygen, the electronics inside suffer fewer faults.

The modules are expected to have a lifespan of 25 years.

The report does not say how many modules have been installed so far, but the complete facility will have 100 modules. Pu claimed it would save 122 million kWh of energy per year (which is roughly 14MW). It would also save 68,000 square meters of land, as well as 105,000 tonnes of freshwater per year.

"The construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port (FTP) has created a huge demand for offshore data centers. The undersea data center can provide support for the development of the digital economy, and will facilitate the safe and orderly cross-border data flow in the FTP," said Su Yang, executive director of Shenzhen HiCloud Data Center Technology company.

Since Highlander/HiCloud carried out its underwater tests during 2021, a number of Chinese regions have put the idea into their five-year plans, and the commercial facility was announced in early 2022, to be built by COOEC.

HiCloud says it has received orders from companies including China Telecom and Hong Kong-based AI software/surveillance company SenseTime.

Microsoft sank the first underwater data center, serving Azure cloud loads from its Project Natick data center off the US Pacific coast in 2015, following that up with a two-year test off the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

Like HiCloud, Microsoft says underwater data centers increased the reliability of IT hardware by protecting it from oxygen and accidental damage.

However, Microsoft has not progressed further with its underwater efforts, despite taking out a patent for a digital reef.