Microsoft uses undersea data center in search of COVID-19 vaccine

Jackie Drees -

Microsoft is using an experimental data center located 117 feet under the sea in Scotland to process data workloads that are part of a global computing project aimed at developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

The tubular submerged data center comprises 864 computer servers; the idea to pack them in a submersible tube comes from the need to address operating temperatures. Significant computing power generates a lot of heat, which can in turn affect operating efficiency. The thermal environment deep underwater presents natural cooling that allows computer processors to run consistently at high speeds, without needing to use energy such as fans or liquid cooling systems.

Microsoft has been operating the data center since June 2018, but recently shifted its focus to help develop potential therapies to treat or prevent COVID-19 infections. The tech giant teamed up with Folding@home, a distributed computing project that employs consumer computers; Microsoft deployed Folding@home's protein research software across its undersea data center's computer servers.

"Folding@home was one of the first distributed computing groups to start working on COVID-related problems and immediately came out with a bunch of workloads that were geared toward finding antibodies and figuring out ways they could create immunizations," said Spencer Fowers, a principal member of technical staff for Microsoft's special projects research group, according to the news release.

The undersea data center's efforts, along with separate Microsoft contributions to Folding@home via its AI for Health initiative, have identified sites on the novel coronavirus that potential drugs could bind to, treating the infection, said Greg Bowman, Folding@home director.

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