Microsoft has confirmed to DCD that its Project Natick underwater data center effort is no longer active.

The subsea project had been quiet for a number of years but has continued to be referenced by media and other companies as an ongoing initiative.

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– Microsoft

"I'm not building subsea data centers anywhere in the world," Noelle Walsh, the head of the company’s Cloud Operations + Innovation (CO+I) division, told DCD.

"My team worked on it, and it worked. We learned a lot about operations below sea level and vibration and impacts on the server. So we'll apply those learnings to other cases."

The company started Project Natick back in 2013, and ultimately deployed a test system off the coast of Scotland in 2018.

We profiled the data center back in 2021, learning about how Microsoft submerged 855 servers and left them unattended for 25 months and eight days. The remaining 135 servers toiled in a couple of racks of a normal data center, alongside hardware running Microsoft's Azure cloud, to compare and contrast.

Only six of the 855 servers broke, compared to eight of the 135 on dry land, with Microsoft pointing to the steady external temperatures as a factor for the success.

Another reason is that the data center was filled with inert nitrogen gas, compared to the reactive oxygen gas in the land data center.

When asked whether this was one of the learnings, and that Microsoft could have human-free data centers with robots, Walsh said: "We're looking at robotics more from the perspective that some of these new servers will be very heavy. How can we automate that versus having people push things around?

“We are learning from other industries on robotics, but we're also very cognizant that we need people. I don't want people worried about their jobs.”

The company open-sourced a number of patents relating to submerged data centers in 2021.

Microsoft patented a high-pressure data center in 2019 and an artificial reef data center patent in 2017, but Walsh said the company was not looking to go too exotic with its buildout.

"I would say now we're getting more focused," she said. "We like to do R&D and try things out, and you learn something here and it may fly over there. But I'd say now, it's very focused."

The full interview with Walsh will be available in the next issue of the DCD Magazine, out now.

In a separate statement, Microsoft told DCD: “While we don’t currently have data centers in the water, we will continue to use Project Natick as a research platform to explore, test, and validate new concepts around data center reliability and sustainability, for example with liquid immersion.”

Last year, China's Highlander deployed a 1,433-ton commercial underwater data center off the Hainan island coast.