Is Liquid Cooling on the Data Center Horizon?
Since desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems that water cooling is getting a second look.
But since desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems that water cooling is getting a second look. A number of systems designers are starting to argue that air-based systems have just about reached their maximum effectiveness in an age of super-dense, highly consolidated server racks.
One firm touting the effectiveness of liquid-cooling is Panduit. The company claims that liquid designs can shave some 20 percent off of energy costs compared to air-cooled systems and can continue consolidation drives within the data center by doing away with hot-aisle/cold-aisle designs. And with new approaches like the rear door heat exchanger that can be fitted onto standard enclosures, start-up costs are coming down as well.
Enterprises with significant server infrastructure are also taking a second look at liquid. Google, which has long used a proprietary server of its own design, just patented a new machine described by some as a "server sandwich" due to its central aluminum heat sink bound by motherboards above and below. The design is similar to a standard cold plate, except that the plate would contain water or some other liquid coolant. Fans along the outside of the device would still be used to cool low-heat components like memory chips. At this point, it's hard to tell whether Google is actually planning to deploy such a device or is simply looking to claim it as a concept.
And it seems liquid cooling is starting to encroach on the PC realm as well. A company called Asetek has devised a liquid-cooled all-in-one PC that the company says matches the price/performance of top-tier models on the market today without the annoying hum of a standard air fan. The prototype features a 130W Intel Core i7-920 processor, a 75W nVidia GTX280M graphics card and a 22-inch monitor. Heat is captured from the main enclosure and is expelled through a small radiator in the base.
Liquid cooling does have a lot to offer in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, but let's face it: Those efficiencies can only be realized after the retrofit is made. And most facilities have yet to reach the upper limits of the heat load currently available under air-cooled designs.
For the common data center then, liquid cooling may be an idea whose time is yet to come.