Server farms tend to be large, energy-hungry operations, but Microsoft’s latest project takes a notably different approach to this problem.

The company has applied for a patent to create underwater data centers that could double as artificial reefs, via PatentYogi. The proposed data centers would be housed in individual units that could be anchored on the ocean floor or right above it.

Environmentally, the units would also be designed to actively encourage sea life and growth around it. In the patent, Microsoft says the data center would house components that are “adapted to actively promote reef life and sustain a surrounding ecosystem.”

Microsoft Underwater Server Microsoft's data centers would be housed below the ocean water. Photo: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

These features could include the data center’s stable heat output, ways to provide nutrients for nearby sea creatures and structural designs that could double as shelters to encourage colonization. For example, the patent mentions how the surface of the center could be treated to promote coral growth via an electro-mineral accretion. These units could also be placed in areas besides deeper ocean waters, as the patent mentions their potential flexibility for places like lakes or flooded quarries.

The patent is an offshoot of Project Natick, a Microsoft initiative where the company designed a similar underwater data center and tested it off the coast of California in 2015.

For Microsoft, the proposed units have multiple upsides. The cooler environments of the ocean floor make the data centers easier to run and their proximity to major cities improve data performance.