Dell Project Triton Applies Water Cooling to x86 Servers

Mike Vizard
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Arguably, the history of computing in the data center could be defined by the latest attempt to pack as much compute power as possible into the smallest amount of physical space possible.

Keeping that goal in mind, Dell today unveiled Project Triton, an ambitious effort to create an x86 server platform that makes use of water cooling to significantly increase the density of an x86 server while serving to lower costs.

Austin Shelnutt, principal thermal engineer for Dell, says Dell worked with Intel and eBay to customize a 200-watt Intel Xeon E5 v4 processor to enable it to be installed in a water cool system. The result, says Shelnutt, is a system that provides 59 percent more performance using a relatively inexpensive Intel processor.

Shelnutt notes that the Dell approach is more economical because in the Project Triton implementation there is no need for costly and less efficient liquid-to-liquid heat exchangers, cooling loops or pumping systems traditionally associated with water cooled systems. Instead, Dell has pioneered an approach that brings facility water directly into each server sled to cool the CPU. Dell claims this approach uses 97 percent less cooling power than the average air-cooled data center and has a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating that ranges between 1.02 to 1.03.


While still in a pilot project, this approach would substantially lower the cost of building high-performance computing (HPC) systems, Shelnutt says. Most existing data centers, notes Shelnutt, still have access to water even though the majority of them now deploy air-cooled system. The thing to remember about water, says Shelnutt, is that in terms of cooling, it is 25 times more efficient than air.

The IT world may or may not be ready to reembrace water-cooled systems to achieve higher levels of server density. But with interest running high in finding ways to scale out IT infrastructure in the age of the cloud, chances are more than a few IT organizations are starting to whet their appetites.

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