Immersion cooling can cut data-center cooling costs
Dipping computers and servers in advanced liquids can cut the massive costs of cooling data centers and help companies make better use of space for their technology infrastructure
By Chandler Harris - Jun 6, 2014
Immersing computers and servers in chemical liquids has become a cool new option for cooling computer equipment at data centers.
The liquid cooling systems vary as do the types of liquids used. Regardless of the methods, the results have been promising in reducing the cost and footprint of data centers over previous systems. There are other benefits, too.
Cooling equipment has become one of the biggest, most expensive challenges for data centers and alarger environmental concern. Data centers use about 2 percent of the world’s electricity supply, withmore than a third of this amount for cooling computing equipment.
A number of companies have developed their own solutions to the cooling problem. Consider thenew supercomputer developed by Intel and SGI, which is submerged in 3M’s Novec dielectric cooling fluid.
Intel and SGI say 3M’s two-phase cooling technology can reduce cooling costs by 95 percent and requires up to 10 times less space than conventional air-cooling infrastructures. Plus, it allows for “heat harvesting” — the ability to grab energy from heated fluid.
3M’s Novec fluid had been used for years as a fire retardant and for high-power electronic cooling of military defense applications and radar systems. Yet 3M saw the liquid’s applicability for cooling large computer infrastructures.
“Back then (around 2000) we believed the need in the market wasn’t as significant, but now with concerns over data centers consuming a lot of energy and electricity for cooling, as well as the projected growth of data centers, we believe our cooling technology has come to the right point for market development,” says Il Ji Kim, marketing manager for 3M Electronics Materials Solutions Division.
Bitcoin mining company uses immersion cooling
Allied Control, an early provider of immersion cooling systems for data centers and 3M partner, recently started using immersion cooling for a Hong Kong-based bitcoin-mining data center that it serves. Because Hong Kong has high rental prices, limited space and frequent humid weather conditions, immersion cooling was seen as a way to help maximize space and cool the facility more efficiently. Bitcoin mining facilities rely on high-performance computers to solve algorithms that confirm transactions between bitcoin users.
The company built a high-powered, 500-kilowatt data center in 15 square meters — the size of a small hotel room. It’s a relatively small space for such a high-powered system.
3M says that the mining facility saves approximately $64,000 a month because the cooling system uses less than 10 percent of the electricity that would have been required for a conventional air-cooled system. Higher density component packing has allowed the company to eliminate fans and other hardware, which reduced the hardware footprint by 87 percent.
Intel is particularly interested in immersion cooling technologies since they can allow the hardware manufacturer to produce chips, boards and servers without the cost or space requirements of air cooling units. While air cooling components need to be separated to facilitate air flow, liquid cooling technologies do not need the same space.
Still, Intel isn’t yet investing heavily in the technology, at least until the company sees wider adoption rates climb, says Michael Patterson, senior power and thermal architect at Intel. Patterson says that most companies believe it’s more cost effective to hold onto their data centers for 15 to 20 years, rather than create new ones that incorporate immersion cooling technology.
“The challenge I think is people will buy new servers or HPC [high-performance computing] clusters every five years, but they often want to keep their data center for 15 to 20 years,” says Patterson. “Why it will take some time is the simple fact that if somebody has a data center, they’re not going to throw it away to go spend the additional capital dollars to get to a point to save energy. I think [immersion cooling] will become more prevalent but it’s going to take some time.”
LiquidCool Solutions (LCS) provides liquid-based cooling in a different way. The company uses a modular approach to immersion cooling by producing a liquid-cooled vertical rack. LCS says that its system reduces energy consumption by 98 percent over air-cooling approaches.
“This modular approach enables users to add devices to a system in any increment without disrupting the existing cooling infrastructure,” says Herb Zien, CEO of LCS. “LCS-cooled devices can coexist with air-cooled devices in the same installation, if desired.”
The University of Minnesota’s Supercomputing Institute adopted LCS cooling for their high-performance computer system for advanced scientific and medical analysis. The university has been able to reduce power consumption and its hardware footprint.
“The challenge was finding server solutions that provided the performance increases we needed while decreasing our energy consumption and data center footprint, which was on a path we could not sustain,” says Jeffrey McDonald, assistant director for HPC operations for the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute. “We’ve deployed LiquidCool’s Liquid Submerged Servers and its benchmark and energy usage returns were very positive.”
Analysis by Rakesh Kumar
Cool Vendors in Data Center Infrastructure Management, Power and Cooling, 2014
Published: 25 April 2014
Why Cool: LiquidCool Solutions' technology consists of a rack into which 1 rack unit (U) and 2U servers are placed. The servers are totally submersed in a dielectric liquid called Core Coolant, which is a nonhazardous, nonvolatile, low-density dielectric liquid with 1,400 times the volumetric cooling capacity of air. The liquid is circulated directly to the components with the highest power density, and the remaining components are cooled by bulk flow as Core Coolant is drawn through the unit to a return line. The vendor claims that an IT device can be hot-swapped within two minutes or, alternatively, removed from a rack, drained, opened, serviced, reassembled, refilled and reinstalled within a 15-minute turnaround window.
One of the key benefits of the solution is that it does away with the movement of air (which can become contaminated and dusty, and cause corrosion) within the server. It also does away with fans, resulting in a lower power draw for the servers. These factors make the technology suitable for hot and rugged climates, modular prefabricated data centers, and new buolds without the need for a raised floor.
Challenges: Convincing organizations (end users, service providers, etc.) that they should run their servers immersed in a liquid poses conceptual challenges in an industry that has had over 40 years of data center air-cooled environments. While the technology is sound, LiquidCool Solutions needs to build stronger partnerships, particularly with established data center suppliers and operators.
Who Should Care: LiquidCool Solutions should be of interest to data center facilities, and cloud and hosting providers looking to reduce their cooling costs and maximize floor space. It should also appeal to geographical regions where air quality is poor and energy costs are high.
LiquidCool: Submerging servers without a tub
Yevgenly Sverdlk from Data Center Knowledge talks to one Minnesota company that has swapped air for fluid to improve server reliability and reduce total cost of ownership
When Herb Zien, who used to run the largest operator of urban district heating and cooling systems in the US, saw for the first time how data center operators were cooling their facilities, he was shocked. As a former thermal engineer Zien was surprised that cold air was being pushed onto the IT equipment from underneath, when cold air tends to fall down. But what surprised him most was that the cooling medium was air, which he had used as a temperature insulator, not as a conductor.
"Maybe there’s a better way to do this", Zien thought. This was towards the end of the past decade. Zien and a partner had sold Thermal North America, which owned and operated steam, chilled water, hot water and electricity distribution systems in 11 US cities, to Veolia Energy.
It was clear to Zien that data centers would become the next major energy consumers. His interest was piqued by a company based in Rochester, Minnesota, that was demonstrating an ability to overclock CPUs on gaming computers by submerging them in a dielectric fluid. He became an investor in the company, a board member, and then CEO – a role he still holds.
The company, called LiquidCool, does more than cooling gaming PCs. With its 16 patents and 24 pending patents it licenses liquid cooling technology to electronics manufacturers, and the data center market is one of its primary targets.
So far, the company has licensed the IP to flight simulators for pilots. But there has been interest from one of the major IT hardware suppliers, as well as from a modular data center vendor. Zien says LiquidCool’s technology offers lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than other data center cooling systems, can accommodate more servers per rack and increase data center reliability. Rather than dipping servers in a tub-like rack filled with dielectric fluid, LiquidCool’s approach to seal each and every server hermetically and fill it with the fluid. This way the system is compatible with standard IT racks.
The company’s cooling liquid is called Core Coolant. It is a non-hazardous, non-volatile, low density dielectric liquid that can absorb 1,400 times more heat than air. Inside each server, the coolant is pushed directly to the hottest components, while the other parts are cooled by non-direct bulk of the liquid, before being pumped out of the box for heat extraction. Warm fluid up to 113F is pulled into an evaporative fluid cooler before returning to the servers.
LIQUID COOLING TACTICS
In addition to lower TCO, the biggest benefits of LiquidCool’s approach are increased reliability and longer life of IT equipment. The temperature around solder joints does not fluctuate as much which helps reduce joint failures. Corrosion of electrical contacts is also stopped because they are not being exposed to fluctuation air temperature oxidation. There are no fans, so there are no moving parts, which means less potential for failure, and no electrical contacts to deteriorate from constant vibration. Finally, the electronics are not exposed to electrostatic discharge, ambient particulate and humidity.
Green Revolution Cooling, Asetek, Chilldyne, CoolIT Systems, Clustered Systems and IBM provide liquid cooling solutions that are different types of cold-plate technology. Instead of flooding electronics with cooling liquid, a cold plate is bolted onto the server CPU, and the cooling is supplied to the cold plate. According to LiquidCool, cold plates cool only the hottest components. The company’s logic is that while cold plates keep the CPU’s cool, they save neither fans and the room still needs to be air cooled.
Other competitors offer “cold-wall” solutions. Rittal provides a cold-wall system where a water-to-air heat exchanger is installed between IT racks and blows cold air sideways using fans. And vendor SprayCool has a system that sprays dielectric fluid on electronics. As the fluid evaporates it gets colder and cools the components. The vapor condenses and moves to a heat exchanger.
The closest solution to LiquidCool’s is that provided by UK based Iceotope. Like LiquidCool, Iceotope floods the motherboard, inside a sealed case with coolant but the case includes a piping circuit that carries water to cool the coolant.
LiquidCool Solutions Launches LSC-RT Small Form Factor Chassis for Cooling High Density Electronics
May 21, 2014 -Rochester, MN -- LiquidCool Solutions announced the availability of LSC Rugged Tier (RT), a cooling technology for a wide variety of high power density electronics within a compact, sealed enclosure ideal for harsh environment applications where other cooling methods fail. more...
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