Underwater data center company Highlander has deployed a commercial facility in the sea near Hainan island, China.

The 1,300-tonne (1,433-ton) system is submerged 35 meters underwater and uses the sea to cool its compute. While specifics were not shared, the company said that the module can process more than four million high-definition images within 30 seconds, 'equivalent to 60,000 traditional computers working simultaneously.'

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– HNNTV.cn

Highlander hopes to eventually deploy 100 such modules at the site, which it says would save 68,000 square meters of land, along with 122 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 105,000 tons of freshwater per year.

China Central Television said that the system was deployed Friday as the first commercial underwater data center - however, Highlander previously claimed that it had deployed a commercial system in Hainan back in April.

Highlander first announced an underwater test in January 2021, in the Guangdong port of Zhuhai. During 2021, other tests took place, and a number of Chinese regions wrote the idea into their five-year plans.

The commercial UDC was announced in early 2022, and is built by COOEC in the waters just off Lingshui Li autonomous county, Hainan province. Highlander has been designated a "little giant" (a fast growth, inventive company) by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

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

Before Highlander took the plunge, Microsoft was the first to test the concept of UDCs, submerging its first Project Natick data center off the US Pacific coast in 2015, and serving Azure cloud loads from the sea bed.

That test was followed by a two-year test off the Orkney Islands in Scotland, which ended in 2020, with Microsoft concluding that underwater data centers increased the reliability of IT hardware, by protecting it from oxygen and accidental damage.

Microsoft does not appear to have progressed further with its underwater efforts.