Nothing spurs innovation like desperation. At a time when both chip architectures and server environments are becoming more dense and, thus, hotter and more expensive to run, a wave of radically new cooling techniques are about to hit the market that promises to outclass all of the solutions we take for granted today.
The movement comes just in time because, particularly for processors, existing cooling designs simply will not function in the micro architectures that will be commonplace relatively soon.
One of the "coolest" (sorry) techniques is the ion pump, developed by researchers at the University of Washington. It's basically a chip-level system that ionizes available air to cause it to blow across the silicon. The group has developed a working prototype and is focused on a number of commercialization issues, such as a controller for multi-chip environments.
Another interesting proposal is from a company called Eneco, which claims to have a process in which excess heat can be captured and converted into usable electricity. If there was ever a win-win situation for the data center, this is it, although we have yet to see a working model.
Much closer to reality, however, are systems like CoolIT, which high-end gamers might be familiar with already. The company is apparently staking a claim for enterprise systems as well, betting that its Thermo-Electric Cooling (TEC) system can play in the high-end server and workstation arenas.
In the end, thank good ol' capitalism for identifying needs and fulfilling them. Data center heat and power consumption will continue to be an issue for some time, but there's no question that one or more solutions will rise to the top sooner rather than later.