All electronic components generate heat, especially computer processors. Traditionally, data centers—composed of rack after rack of servers—have relied on air cooling systems to dissipate server-generated heat. However, as data centers become larger and ever more packed with increasingly powerful equipment, there is a finite limit to air-cooling capabilities. As Ken Brill noted in 2007, there will be an inevitable breakdown of Moore’s Law—the rate at which computational speed increases—due to the economic limitations of air-cooling capacity at data centers. This is where data center liquid cooling systems come into play.
Get Wet to Stay Cool
Cooling computer components with liquids originated in the 1970s with IBM 3033 and the Cray-2. (After this, though, the majority of water-cooled systems remained in the domain of computer enthusiasts who built homemade water coolers for their high-performance, overclocked CPUs.) In the last ten years, however, with the increased desire to go “green” to reduce energy consumption, developing viable industrial-grade liquid cooling systems for data center use has become a priority. Current technology employs liquid immersion systems: submerging servers and other components in thermally, but not electrically, conductive liquids such as mineral-based oils.
Despite these systems’ greater cooling capacity, they have their own unique set of concerns: submerged servers can only be reached from above; all maintenance activities have the potential for spills; a large supply of coolant and tanks for servers are required; components such as special hard disk drives (HDDs), which must operate in gas, require special cases to keep coolant out; and the cost to retrofit an air-cooled data center is substantially more expensive than designing and building a new one. However, with the need for greater cooling capacity—one study estimates 35% of data center energy powers equipment while it takes 50% of total energy to cool that equipment—the industry is inevitably moving in this direction.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Servers immersed in tanks of coolant is one thing; however, Microsoft’s Project Natick is taking this a big step further: In 2015, a pilot project deployed a subsea data center. As detailed at the project’s site, “Deepwater deployment offers ready access to cooling, renewable power sources, and a controlled environment.” And, with 50% of the world’s population living near a coastline, why not employ data storage and processing capabilities there too?
No matter your data center needs, you don’t have to go it alone: Silverback Data Center Solutions is here to help guide you through this brave new world.