The Verdict reported in 2018 that the possible environmental impact of underwater data centers is unclear; one unit may have a negligible impact on local temperature, but masses of them might have noticeable effects on sealife.
“Whilst there may be substantial benefits for companies such as Microsoft in transferring data storage systems offshore, the effects of any structure placed in the marine environment, especially one that generates substantial heat locally, would have to be investigated,” University of Portsmouth marine ecologist Gordon Watson told the Verdict. Watson added that any site would need to be assessed for environmental impact and that “It is not as easy (at least in countries where they have advanced marine planning legislation) as just sticking something on the seabed and retrieving it five years later.”
There’s also the problem of diminishing returns. Leeds Beckett University School of Computing, Creative Technologies and Engineering dean Colin Pattinson told Wired in 2018 that while underwater data centers are “worth a try,” efficiency gains for reducing power needs are decreasing over time.
“Effectively what we’re trying to do now is squeeze yet more savings out of the same basic tech,” Pattinson told Wired. “We might reduce the rate of the increase but there will still be an increase in the energy demands that data centres create because of the volumes of data we’re producing.”
The next phase of the Project Natick will be demonstrating ease of removal and recycling.
“We are now at the point of trying to harness what we have done as opposed to feeling the need to go and prove out some more,” Cutler said in the announcement. “We have done what we need to do. Natick is a key building block for the company to use if it is appropriate.”