Liquid Cooling: Time for Another Look?

Arthur Cole
Bill Trolley

Herb Zien
CEO of LiquidCool Systems

For many organizations, the thought of liquid-cooled enterprise infrastructure raises concerns on a number of levels. Even though advanced dielectrics have eliminated fears of shorting out the entire server farm or storage array, there is still the cost of retrofitting entire data centers to consider. But Herb Zien, CEO of LiquidCool Systems, says that with a planned approach and state-of-the-art technology, costs can be easily recouped through more efficient operations and the elimination of chillers, CRAC units and other facilities hardware. And the space you save can be devoted to increased data resources. IT Business Edge’s Arthur Cole finds out more.

Cole: No one denies the efficacy of liquid cooling over air-cooling, yet it's a move that few enterprises have been willing to make so far. How can enterprises overcome this uncertainty?

Zien: Adoption of new technology can be risky. Data centers are capital intensive, and a poor decision can be a career killer. One way to introduce new technology at minimal risk is to gradually integrate it without spending additional capital. For example, the refresh rate for IT equipment in a data center is three to five years. It makes sense to reserve a portion of the refresh expenditure for equipment using LCS cooling technology. That way, it will be easy to compare the LCS solution with legacy equipment, and the data center will begin to reduce energy consumption and floor space requirements immediately. Of course, the full benefits will not be realized until the data center is completely converted, which will take several refresh cycles. Then the chillers can be turned off permanently, CRAC units scrapped and excess space reallocated.


Cole: LiquidCool is a proponent of total immersion systems. What are the advantages over traditional liquid cooling technologies?

Zien: There are three liquid cooling technologies: cold plates, cold walls and total immersion. Water is the favored cooling medium for cold plates and cold walls in most cases, but sometimes a refrigerant is used to take advantage of fluid vaporization and minimize damage when leaks occur. Cold plates target processors and only remove 70 percent of the heat, which means fans are still needed. Cold walls are essentially attempts to make the data processing room smaller, so humidity control and fan power issues remain.

LCS’s technology, covered by 15 issued and 23 pending patents, is an elegant, cost-effective solution. It can be applied to any type of electronics, and rack-mounted devices are hot swappable and easy to access for maintenance. There are no moving parts or heat exchange barriers within the IT chassis, and blade fans, rack fans, CRAC units and air handlers are not needed. As well, mechanical refrigeration, raised floors and high ceilings are eliminated, and the potential for electrostatic discharge is eliminated by submersion, so humidity control is a non-issue. Our solution also isolates electronics from air pollution and harsh environments, and waste heat is recovered in a form convenient for recycling. And finally, our system is rugged and operates silently and without vibration.

Cole: What about the learning curve? Is it necessary for the enterprise to completely retrain facilities personnel once the conversion is complete?

Zien: In developing its technology, LCS paid special attention to ease of maintenance and rack management. LCS’s proprietary solution includes not just a way to cool electronic devices by total immersion in an eco-friendly, inexpensive dielectric fluid, but the way those devices fit into a standard-size rack and the way they can be removed and disassembled quickly without creating a mess. The look and feel of an LCS cooled rack-mounted device is similar to legacy air-cooled equipment, so the learning curve is short for those who are familiar with working with rack-mounted electronics.

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