Liquid cooling has not had much of a role in the data centre to date, but that could change with new technologies that promise to cut energy consumption, increase the density of server deployments and reduce carbon footprints.
The claims come from UK firm Iceotope, which late last year launched a line of servers developed in partnership with Intel.
The servers use liquid cooling to do away with the need for air conditioning in server rooms and thus save on energy consumption.
Energy use is a growing concern in the data centre industry, as trends such as cloud computing and data traffic from mobile devices lead to more and more data centre capacity coming online.
Indeed, if the internet was a nation, it would be the fifth biggest consumer of energy in the world, according to some estimates.
Iceotope enlisted the backing of academics, partners and industry analysts at an event in London attended by V3 to extol the virtues of liquid cooling, and its own solutions in particular.
Many readers will be familiar with liquid cooling systems used by enthusiasts and gamers to let them overclock the processor in a home system, but the technology has rarely been seen in servers and the data centre.
Dr Jon Summers of the University of Leeds explained at the event that a typical air conditioning system would use 55W of energy to remove 2kW of heat energy from a controlled environment.
Liquids are much better at conducting heat, so a liquid cooling system could do the same job while consuming just 1W, he claimed.
The university has been running tests on an Iceotope deployment, and is exploring the possibility of a broader production deployment to support its research efforts using high performance computing (HPC).
Iceotope's PetaGen system, launched in November, uses a combination of liquid coolant systems. Each server blade has its motherboard completely immersed in coolant inside a sealed container.
The coolant is an exotic fluid called Novec developed by 3M, which is not electrically conductive and disperses heat from the components by convection.
The blades fit into a rack-mount enclosure, with a separate cooling system in the rack that circulates water to remove heat from the blades (pictured).
This arrangement enables a fully populated rack to mount up to 72 blade servers, each blade being a twin socket system based on the latest Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 processors.
"Driving up density is about driving down cost," said Iceotope founder Peter Hopton.
Hopton also told V3 that the liquid cooling system enabled the processors to run continually in Turbo Boost mode, if required, delivering extra compute power in HPC deployments.
Meanwhile, the fact that PetaGen hardware does away with the need for an air conditioned environment means that organisations can deploy the servers in their office space rather than purpose-built data centres.
The systems do not need fans, so are much quieter in operation, and are said to be capable of delivering a power usage effectiveness ratio as low as 1.05, compared with an industry average of about 1.5.
While this has clear benefits in energy savings over the long term, Iceotope conceded that PetaGen carries a price premium compared with standard Xeon server systems, although the firm did not go into details.
Andrew Donoghue, European research manager at analyst firm 451, also warned at the event that moving to a liquid-cooled infrastructure would "almost be like bringing a single point of failure into the data centre" because the failure of a pump that circulates coolant could affect many systems at once.
Iceotope said that PetaGen has redundancy built into the coolant system inside its enclosures.
The fact that PetaGen is effectively a proprietary system is also likely to deter many conservative enterprise IT departments from rolling the hardware out across their entire data centre at present, although it could prove popular for infrastructure dedicated to HPC applications.
Meanwhile, others in the industry have found alternative routes to cutting the energy consumption of cooling systems, such as using outside air, as practiced by Facebook, or developing servers that can operate at a higher temperature, as Dell has previously claimed for its systems.
"If you don't need air cooling, it changes what a data centre needs to be," Donoghue said.
For this reason, most of the major IT companies are now investigating the potential of liquid cooling, including IBM, HP and Dell, he added.
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