New Ways to Cool Those Servers

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Keep Your Cool in the Data Center

The more tightly you pack heat-generating equipment, the more energy you consume trying to cool the air in and around it. An efficient cooling system is a top priority.

We're now several years into the "green data center" movement, but far from petering out as some observers predicted at the outset, it seems that the tools and techniques used to drive down energy costs are growing increasingly diverse.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the server, which, after all, is the top culprit in the data center industry's huge demand for electricity. Virtualization has already gone a long way toward reducing the demand for additional hardware, and now it seems that the servers that do remain will be energy misers compared to previous generations.

A big part of this revolution is in cooling. As enterprises continue to experiment with higher operating temperatures and free air and water cooling techniques, a number of new server-cooling designs are starting to hit the channel.

One of them is full-submersion liquid cooling, which is essentially dunking entire racks into a specialized liquid cooling medium. Green Revolution Cooling has taken the lead with this concept with its CarnotJet system. It uses a dielectric, non-conductive fluid called GreenDef that the company says can out-perform air-cooled systems some 1,200-fold, reducing cooling costs by 95 percent. As a concept, full-submersion isn't all that radical considering electrical transformers, supercomputers and even high-end gaming systems have been using it for years. And while upfront costs have been a barrier in the data center so far, GRC says it has addressed this in its latest design.

There is also a lot of buzz around Facebook's new Open Sources data center platform, built largely on the design of its new Prineville, Ore., facility. The platform includes the use of evaporative cooling in the server room rather than traditional air conditioning, with the idea that evaporating airborne water molecules as opposed to condensing and compressing them provides improved cooling at lower cost. How effective this approach will be in Oregon is unclear, however, as it is usually employed in high-heat/low-humidity regions. Still, there are instances of its use in a variety of climates in heavy industrial settings.

All this is well and good for new construction, but how can existing facilities improve their cooling efficiency? For that, you'll probably need new cooling control mechanisms like those provided by Data Aire Inc. The company's new Unity Cooling System provides software-based air-flow management and specialized rack-mounted fan modules to direct cool air where it is needed most. The package also includes air-flow measurement devices and a computer room air-conditioning (CRAC) microprocessor that help dynamically alter air patterns based on changing data loads and hardware refreshes.

And pretty soon, we may be able to drill this kind of air-flow management even further into the infrastructure. Influent Corporation and Electronics Packaging Associates are working on a concept called "air bullets," described as small air pulses that can be directed to specific components within a larger system. The two firms are using fluid dynamics tools to chart and predict the behavior of these bullets within working systems to hopefully provide a highly manageable cooling mechanism.

IT has long known that the secret to maintaining operations is to keep systems cool. That has grown into a substantial challenge in the past few years as economics have forced organizations to take a hard look at their infrastructure expenses.

The good news is that demand for greater efficiency is starting to overcome resistance to large capital outlays. And the tools and techniques that can reduce costs on both the front and back ends will emerge as the biggest winners.

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