Liquid Cooling on the Rise

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.

Whether they're in the cloud or the enterprise, servers are increasingly tasked with doing more for less. Virtualization, multicore technology and advanced resource and data management are making sure that hardware is processing maximum data loads while drawing minimal power.

The resulting high efficiency is generally a plus for the enterprise, but it also means servers are running hotter than they would otherwise and ambient air-cooling solutions may not be able to provide relief where it's needed most.

That's why many organizations are turning toward liquid-cooling solutions. Not only are they considered cheaper to operate - many of the specialized solutions in use can be cooled more quickly and efficiently than air - but they can also provide more direct cooling to the racks or individual machines that run hottest.

This is especially crucial in high-performance data platforms. IBM's new System x iDataPlex Dx360 M4, for example, has an optional rear-door heat exchanger that utilizes a warm-water cooling system that the company says is 40 percent more efficient than air cooling and draws 90 percent of heat in a given node.

Warm water solutions have gained attention recently as new server platforms show increasingly strong tolerance for higher operating temperatures. In fact, eBay is bucking the trend of building data centers in temperate climates where cool air is readily available. Its Phoenix, Ariz., facility utilizes a hot water system to keep racks operating at about 87 degrees F. When outside air temperatures can reach as high as 115, anything less than 90 can seem positively arctic.

In France, meanwhile, hosting provider OVH has mounted an elaborate water delivery system that provides highly efficient heat sinks along its customized server racks without the raised flooring and other features of a traditional air-cooled environment. This has allowed the company to increase system density and lower operating costs by 80 percent - savings it can pass on to customers as they seek resources to accommodate increasing data loads.

Water is not the only medium available for liquid-cooling operations, however. 3M has recently begun repurposing a non-flammable solvent called Novec for cooling applications. A UK company called Iceotope uses the substance in its cabinets where it can be deployed in low-pressure, gravity-fed configurations to provide continual exchange between server racks and facility heating systems. The company says it can reduce cooling costs by 97 percent and lessen power loads by 20 percent, all without chillers, CRAC units or other air handling and refrigeration systems.

Naturally, the thought of running water or other liquids so close to vital electronic components leaves many data center managers, well, cold. And to be sure, liquid systems will have to be watched very closely to ensure there is no leakage.

But the numbers speak for themselves. Liquid cooling raises the efficiency bar by several orders of magnitude. And as workloads continue to mount, efficiency of operations will remain a top priority in the data center.

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