I’ve posted on the subject of liquid-cooling in the data center numerous times over the years, and indeed the technology appears to be catching on as the enterprise strives for higher performance on denser hardware footprints.
The concept, in fact, is being driven to increasing extremes, with all manner of dielectrics, pumping mechanisms and various other approaches to put cool liquid in touch with hot electrical components without shorting out the entire data infrastructure in a shower of sparks. Microsoft recently upped the game by pitching an entire data module into the ocean where it can take advantage of cool seawater directly, as opposed to building an extensive piping system to serve inland resources.
But while futuristic technologies make for great headlines, the average enterprise faces an ongoing problem: how to make the most of traditional air-cooling systems so legacy data environments can be upgraded for an increasingly heavy workload. For that, we have to turn to a number of start-ups that have hit upon the idea that shoring up aging infrastructure can be just as lucrative as building out entirely new ones.
One way is to augment legacy air systems with a liquid component to accommodate the additional heat generated by high-performance CPUs and GPUs. This is the idea behind Asetek’s Internal Loop system, which delivers what the company calls “enhanced liquid air” to key servers and nodes. The idea is to pull heat that normal air cannot handle into a liquid, which then dumps it into the air stream for disposal. The system is compatible with 1U rack systems and larger and features integrated pump/cold plate units that fit both Intel and AMD server sockets. It is also available as a pre-integrated component of Ciara’s Orion HF320D-G3 overclocked dual-node unit.
At the same time, a Swiss company called Alfa Laval has added a low-speed ventilation component to its integrated air-cooling system, which enables high-efficiency cooling even in dense server architectures. The company says it can deliver a 30-percent gain in cooling efficiency, depending on the room configuration and, when coupled with either free-air or water-based cooling, can help drive PUE ratings to industry-leading levels. The company also provides continuous partnership and ongoing maintenance programs to ensure that initial performance levels do not degrade over time.
Time, of course, is the enemy of all integrated systems no matter how impressive they are right out of the box. With data center cooling technologies, a prime enemy is the dirt and bacteria that collect on critical handling systems but require an expensive and complicated cleaning process to remove. A company called UV Resources says it has an easy solution in a process that bathes key components like coils and air-handling units in Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation. The system uses a key UV light wavelength (254 nm, or UV-C) that not only disintegrates organic materials by destroying their molecular bonds but also sterilizes components to prevent future contamination. The operating cost is less than 1 percent that of powering a typical AC system, while installation is about ten cents per cfm (cubic feet per minute).
If all goes according to plan and the enterprise starts porting workloads to the cloud en masse, then large cooling infrastructures will likely exist only in regional hosting centers that provide the bulk of data processing and storage. At best, the enterprise will have a streamlined modular footprint that can be purpose built for either air- or water-cooling, depending on what makes the most economic sense.
But with global data demands on the rise with no end in sight, efficient cooling should become a top priority given the already poor impression that the data industry has engendered via its energy consumption. In that light, even small gains in today’s inefficient air-cooling systems will be welcome.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.