Is the Data Center Industry Finally Ready to Take Liquid Cooling Seriously?

14 Feb 2022 by Mike Allen

For data center operators, embracing the right kind of cooling solution for their facility can provide an opportunity to remain ahead of the technological curve and embrace the future with open arms. However, as the data center industry has observed in recent years, many providers are hesitant to embrace change.

Facilities that deploy extremely high-density racks, typically over 30 kW, have no choice of whether or not to utilize liquid cooling. It’s a necessity. Regardless of how new the system is or how well it’s optimized, air cooling simply just isn’t enough to maintain the reliability of IT systems in such a dense environment.

This is the future on the horizon for all data center operators. As chips continue to increase in density and building costs continue to rise, rack power requirements are reaching close to 20 kW in many facilities and many organizations are looking to deploy racks with requirements of 50 kW or more. Soon all operators, regardless of size, will need to be aware of more effective cooling methods in order to increase the efficiency of their facilities.

Benefits of liquid cooling

There are many benefits of utilizing liquid cooling systems, but we will focus on four key areas:

Improved Reliability and Performance 

In addition to providing the desired reliability that all facilities strive for, liquid cooling also helps infrastructure perform better. When CPUs begin to approach the limits of their safe operating temperature, as is very likely to occur with air cooling, CPU performance is throttled back in order to avoid thermal runaway. So even though the hardware is not malfunctioning, just by virtue of not having the most efficient cooling solution in place, you’re not getting the maximum performance out of your infrastructure. Liquid cooling solves this problem.

Improved Energy Efficiency

Liquid has higher thermal transfer properties compared to air. When you combine that with the fact facilities can remove the fans that were used to circulate air in the data center, the result is a significant reduction in energy output. The pumps that are needed for liquid cooling solutions require far less energy than the fans that would be needed for conventional cooling methods.

Sustainability

The push to make data centers more environmentally friendly is currently underway. As a result, data center operators must look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and utilize less energy and scarce resources such as water in areas affected by drought. In addition to helping facilities reduce their energy consumption, liquid cooling also provides a more effective way to re-purpose captured heat as the liquid-to-liquid heat transfer is more efficient than what is possible with air based cooling systems.

Maximizing data center space 

Liquid cooling allows for a density within data centers that you simply cannot accomplish with traditional air-cooling methods. This allows facilities to better utilize data center space and eliminate the need for new construction or expansion. Liquid cooling affords operators the flexibility to construct lower footprint facilities while still being able to accommodate processing intensive edge deployments even when physical space is limited.

Recent advances in liquid cooling technology

Immersion cooling 

Traditionally, data centers used the room air to keep the temperature of servers and other devices cool. However, this method isn’t terribly efficient. The ideal way to improve the cooling efficiency of a facility is to use a dielectric fluid with an open bath design. This would eradicate the usage of pressure connectors, vessels and seals. This process is called green revolution cooling.

With immersion cooling, the rack is designed specifically so that servers are inserted vertically in the rack. The immersion tank houses the servers in a dielectric bath, and utilizing a CDU, circulates cooling fluid in order to remove heat.

Cold-plates method

Cold plates provide cooling locally to infrastructure by transferring heat to the liquid which flows to the remote heat exchanger and dissipates into another liquid. Tubed cold plates consist of an aluminum plate with copper tube. This technique is very efficient in maintaining low temperatures and is also cost-effective. The Coolant tube is placed adjacent to the device’s base in order to keep the device cool.

Embedded Microchannel Cooling Package Technique

Microchannel cooling is a form of direct-to-chip liquid cooling that uses cold plates to directly target CPUs, GPUs, and other memory modules. This solution focuses on a heat spreading premise. The cold plates spread the heat in the device out into small, internal fluid channels which are then removed by a flowing coolant. The close contact between the coolant and the cold plates allows for an exceptionally high rate of heat removal.

Conclusion

Different types of liquid cooling techniques are arriving on the market seemingly daily as the innovation in this field is ongoing. As explained above, liquid cooling is far more efficient than air-cooling techniques, especially when it comes to high density environments. In order to get the most cost-effective, efficient, productive, and easy to operate systems, providers should get ahead of the curve and switch from traditional cooling techniques to liquid cooling.

Author

Mike Allen

With decades of engineering expertise, Mike brings extensive experience driving growth and turning vision into deliverables. He has excellent analytical, team leadership, and management skills along with a track record of knowing when to move forward and when to pivot.

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