Intel sees 20 percent annual growth for the technical computing market from 2011-2016. Will the appetite for ever-more powerful computing clusters push users to new cooling technologies, like submerging servers in liquid coolant? If so, Intel will be ready. Intel’s interest in alternative cooling designs is driven by growth projections for the high-performance computing sector.
Intel Embraces Oil Immersion Cooling For Servers Slashdot posting tells that Intel has just concluded a year-long test in which it immersed servers in an oil bath, and has affirmed that the technology is highly efficient and safe for servers. The chipmaker is now working on reference designs, heat sinks and boards that are optimized for immersion cooling.
Intel Gives Oil-Based Cooling Thumbs Up article tells that Intel finds dunking a server in a bath of nonconductive oil may be an ideal cooling solution and Intel gave its seal of approval to dunking a server full of electronic components in a bath of dielectric oil. This approach can lower the PUE to an eye-catching 1.02. After a year’s immersion in the oil bath, all the hardware involved in the test—microprocessors, I/O chips, connectors, hard drives, and server housing—withstood the oil just fine.
Of course, this “new” way of cooling a server isn’t exactly novel. For example power substations have used oil liquid cooling to reduce heat in transformers for ages. Dunking heat-generating microprocessors and graphics cards inside an oil bath has served as an alternative cooling solution for PC over-clockers for many years. Also early supercomputers have used liquid cooling.
Data Center Knowledge article Intel Embraces Submerging Servers in Oil article tells that Intel is optimizing its technology for servers immersed in oil, an approach that may soon see broader adoption in the high performance computing (HPC) sector. Mineral oil has been used in immersion cooling because it is not hazardous and transfers heat almost as well as water, but doesn’t conduct an electric charge. Mike Patterson, senior power and thermal architect at Intel, says that immersion cooling can change the way data centers are designed and operated. Immersion cooling can even eliminate need for chillers and raised floors.
Austin-based Green Revolution Cooling says its liquid-filled enclosures can cool high-density server installations for a fraction of the cost of air cooling in traditional data centers. The company says its approach can produce large savings on infrastructure, allowing users to operate servers without a raised floor, computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units or chillers. Fluid temperature is maintained by a pump with a heat exchanger using a standard water loop.
In essence, the company’s product, called CarnotJet, houses servers in a specialized coolant oil that absorbs the heat they give off and is then sent to a radiator where it’s cooled before being recycled back into the server housing. Each 13U rack can handle between 6 kW and 8 kW of heat, depending on whether the heat pulled away from the servers is exchanged via a traditional radiator or a water loop. The company claims that they can install 100kW or more of compute in each 42U rack. Here is a video of the technology.
The downside is that mineral oil-style coolants can be messy to maintain. A little mineral oil spreads a long way (ie., it’s messy). If you plan to minimize the needed hardware maintenance and keep spare clothes when working with servers, the messiness might to be a very big issue compared to potential gains.