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Startup's Submerged Servers Could Cut Cooling Costs 147

Posted by timothy
from the alliteration-alternation dept.
1sockchuck writes "Are data center operators ready to abandon hot and cold aisles and submerge their servers? An Austin startup says its liquid cooling enclosure can cool high-density server installations for a fraction of the cost of air cooling in traditional data centers. Submersion cooling using mineral oil isn't new, dating back to the use of Fluorinert in the Cray 2. The new startup, Green Revolution Cooling, says its first installation will be at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (also home to the Ranger supercomputer). The company launched at SC09 along with a competing liquid cooling play, the Iceotope cooling bags."
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Startup's Submerged Servers Could Cut Cooling Costs

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  • by alen (225700) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:01PM (#31527630)

    the new Xeon 5600's run at less power than previous CPU's. and SSD's also run a lot cooler. how much does this liquid cooling enclosure cost and what is the performance compared to just upgrading your hardware?

    HP is going to ship their Xeon 5600 servers starting on the 29th

  • Maintaince Access? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:05PM (#31527712)

    How much harder does it make doing standard move cables/switch harddrives/change components maintenance?

    One of the advantages of a standard rack to me is that all of that is fairly easy and simple, so you can fix things quickly when something goes wrong.

  • by JPerler (442850) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:32PM (#31528270) Homepage

    Hard disks aren't sealed, there's always (at least, on the dozens of disks I've taken apart) a little felt-pad or sticker covered vent on them. I figured it was for equalisation or something crazy, but I'm not positive.

    Given hard disks aren't sealed, wouldn't they fill with fluid and assuming they'd still function with a liquid screwing up the head mechanism (given modern disk's head's float above the platter surface on a cushion of air) wouldn't the increased viscosity slow down seek events?

  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:46PM (#31528540)

    I'm also curious- is there any kind of fire hazard doing this on a large scale?

    There isn't a lot to burn in a normal computer(at least not burn really well) but could a short circuit near a leak lead to a inferno in an oil cooled data centre?

    Or is the oil treated in some way to make it less likely to burn?

  • by colordev (1764040) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:50PM (#31528612) Homepage
    A server with this [newegg.com] Intel Atom equipped mobo draws something like 25-35W under full load. And the performance of these D510 dual core processors is comparable [cpubenchmark.net] to better Pentium 4 processors.
  • by eh2o (471262) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:05PM (#31528854)

    Air actually has a very high thermal resistance so one needs to use forced circulation to actually transport moderate amounts of heat. Running all those fans uses more energy. In fact in any closed room, running a fan may cause objects immediately in front of the fan to be cooled, but overall the room is heating up from the power use.

    Oil has a very low thermal resistance naturally so one can use ordinary convection instead (up to some point).

    A less messy solution would be for servers to be made with integrated metal heat-pipes that conduct the waste energy to the case. Then a special type of rack would carry the heat away through the mounting rails.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:07PM (#31528874)

    No, the fluid would completely ruin the hard drive because they're not designed for that.

    There's two ways around this problem that I see:
    1) Use SSD disks instead of mechanical platter HDs.
    2) Use regular HDs, but do not submerge them in the cooling oil. Instead, put them in some type of aluminum enclosure which conducts the heat to the cooling oil, but keeps it from contacting the HD itself, sort of like what the water-cooling enthusiasts do for their hard drives today.

    And yes, I believe you're correct about equalization; the disks have filters to keep contaminants out and the air inside clean, but they're not designed to be pressurized, so they have to equalize with the ambient air pressure.

  • by AlejoHausner (1047558) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:07PM (#31528878) Homepage

    The company's website [grcooling.com] claims that it's easier to cool oil than to cool air. Their argument is that conventional air cooling requires 45 degree F air to keep components at 105 degree F, whereas the higher heat capacity of the oil lets it come out of the racks at 105F. The oil is hotter than ambient air (at least where I live), so it should be easier to remove its heat (through a heat exchanger) than to chill warm exhaust air back to 45F (through a refrigeration unit). Of course most components can run hotter than 105F, and that only strengthens their argument.

    Alejo

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:10PM (#31528932)

    It's not cheaper to cool oil. However, it's easier, because you can use oil-to-water heat exchangers, and cool the whole server farm with a chilled water plant (like A/C, but only chills water and never uses it to cool air). The benefit of this is that you don't have to worry about airflow, ductwork, and the like, and you can pack servers much more densely into a space than with air cooling. Since floor space in a facility like this is expensive, this saves money. It might also be more efficient to use chilled water in pipes to cool the servers directly rather than chilling air and blowing that around a big building.

  • Mainframe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snspdaarf (1314399) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:26PM (#31529196)
    I seem to remember mainframes using distilled water for cooling decades ago. Not being a member of the correct priesthood, I was not allowed in the mainframe room, so I don't know how it was set up then. I have seen how oil-filled systems work, and I would hate to work on one. Nasty mess.
  • by epiphyte(3) (771115) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @07:34PM (#31530728)
    The Cray 2 had a three stage cooling system; the flourinert was pumped through a heat exchanger and dumped it's heat into chilled water, which was either provided by the site's existing HVAC infrastructure or (more likely, since the dissipation was in the Megawatt range) by a dedicated freon-based water chiller. The 5th generation Cray Inc (as opposed to CCC) also used immersion cooling in a similar vein. Many other Cray machines (YMP, C90 and so on used the same 3-stage cooling system, but the modules weren't immersed in the flourinert, rather the coolant flowed through channels in a thermally conductive plate sandwiched between the two boards of each processor or memory module. This wasn't a means of cooling the boards more cheaply; this was ECL logic... in those days it was the only way you could deliver the required power and have the thing not literally melt.
  • Re:Oh yuck. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Zapo_Verde (1406221) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @11:09PM (#31532388)
    Most power transformers are oil cooled. In every substation there are a few big ones, and there are many smaller ones on pole tops or on the ground in suburbs. They pump the oil through the transformer and into a radiator that may or may not be fan cooled. If you build it right, sometimes you dont even need a pump, you can just use the changing density of oil as it heats to have it move itself through the loop. Cooling computers would use the same principle. Oil is a good insulator. There is a certain amount of fire hazard, especially since an arc through the oil will break it down into gasses like acetylene and hydrogen. I'm sure on youtube there are some rather spectacular videos of transformer fires. However there are ways to mitigate the fire risk, and oil cooling is a rather old and well known technology. It has been used in the power industry for more than 50 years.

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