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Intel Hardware

Intel Embraces Oil Immersion Cooling For Servers 230

Posted by Soulskill
from the pretty-slick dept.
1sockchuck writes "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. 'We're evaluating how (immersion cooling) can change the way data centers are designed and operated,' said Mike Patterson, senior power and thermal architect at Intel. 'I think it will catch on. It's going to be a slow progression, but it will start in high-performance computing.' Intel's test used technology from Green Revolution Cooling, which says its design eliminates the need for raised flooring, CRAC units or chillers. Other players in immersion cooling include Iceotope and Hardcore (now LiquiCool)."
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Intel Embraces Oil Immersion Cooling For Servers

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @08:14PM (#41229607)

    Is it really a good idea to put computers and hydrocarbons that closely together?

    What if there's a fire?

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @08:16PM (#41229625) Homepage

      Is it really a good idea to put computers and hydrocarbons that closely together?

      What if there's a fire?

      Most people would put it out. What, exactly, were you thinking?

      • by gagol (583737)
        The technique has been field tested in submarines for quite a long time.
      • by the_rajah (749499) * on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:44PM (#41230707) Homepage
        I work in the elevator business as an Engineer. One day I was working on software in a new installation when the service man with me got a call to service an elevator in a mansion nearby. He suggested I come with him as it was an interesting installation. It was indeed. This was a three stop elevator installed in 1917 and all original and working just like it did almost 100 years ago. The controller resembled a cast iron bathtub with a lid having the relays mounted suspended from it. When the lid was lowered the relays were suspended in oil. I've seen some very old elevators still in use, but never one like that.
        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Not really surprised. I worked in heavy industry back in the early 2000's, and we'd immerse our relays and some of our transformer blocks in oil to keep them cool, especially if they were going to very hot parts of the world. In some cases we'd fully skip the electronics, and go right to plain relays for the setups if they were going anywhere where: Power/voltage issues were going to be a problem. Or where brownouts/spikes were going to be a problem. Or where contamination would be a serious issue.

          The m

        • A word of warning: the oil in the tub was almost certainly a full load of pure PCBs [wikipedia.org]. They were ideal for the purpose: highly dielectric, nonflammable, stable. They're great so long as you look past the fact that they're horribly toxic and carcinogenic, so they were very widely used in exactly that kind of application. Be careful if you ever have to crack one open again.

      • Most people would put it out. What, exactly, were you thinking?

        Maybe tossing a bag of fries into the hot oil?

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @08:16PM (#41229629) Journal

      One example of non-flammable oil is Silicone Oil

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicone_oil [wikipedia.org]

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Diesel is an oil product that isn't flammable... unless you compress it. Even crude oil is quite hard to light and requires addition of quite some energy to get it lighted, gasoline and certain other oils are the very flammable ones but there are quite some oils that would be considered inflammable under the conditions in a computer.

      • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:18PM (#41230103) Homepage Journal
        This is a bit confused, I'm afraid. Diesel has a flash point of 100 to 200 Farenheit depending on the type of fuel, etc. If you get it that hot, or hotter, it can accumulate enough flammable vapor to burn.

        In a Diesel engine, compression heats it, and it ignites. But compression is not the only way to ignite it.

        • Yes...it will ignite very readily with a match. Have watched too many people burn brush piles with it when I was a kid. It doesn't flash up or the vapors don't ignite like gasoline, but burns steadily.
          • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:55PM (#41230357) Homepage Journal

            In general, you need a wick. Diesel won't burn by itself, unless the temperature is very high or the air superoxygenated.

            The same is true for gasoline, by the way. I used to fill a bottle cap with gasoline, and stub out my cigarette in it. It never caught on fire. The "no smoking" rule of gas stations is mostly because of people using open flames to light their cigarettes and pipes in a fume filled environment, and not so much a cigarette that isn't hotter than many exhaust pipes.

            • by fnj (64210)

              Or unless it is atomized, for example in a crash.

            • by necro81 (917438)

              I used to fill a bottle cap with gasoline, and stub out my cigarette in it

              Were you all out of water?

        • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:06PM (#41230411) Homepage Journal

          This is a bit confused, I'm afraid. Diesel has a flash point of 100 to 200 Farenheit depending on the type of fuel, etc. If you get it that hot, or hotter, it can accumulate enough flammable vapor to burn.

          You need a certain ratio of vapour to air, and you still need something to ignite that vapour mix.

          In a Diesel engine, compression heats it, and it ignites. But compression is not the only way to ignite it.

          This is misleading at best, reading like you compress the diesel. You don't - liquids don't compress.
          You compress air, which heats to a heck of a lot more than 200F (more like 1000F), and also puts more oxygen per volume in the chamber. The high temperature of the air combined with the high O2 level allows the combustion to take place.

        • by tsotha (720379) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:32AM (#41231343)
          And yet if you drop a match in a coffee can full of diesel it will gutter out without lighting the fuel.
      • by gweihir (88907)

        Diesel burns quite well. You just need something like a "wick". Even salad-oil burns that way. And once it is heated up a bit, it does not need the help anymore.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          Diesel burns quite well. You just need something like a "wick". Even salad-oil burns that way. And once it is heated up a bit, it does not need the help anymore.

          Unless you pump in a lot of air or oxygen, it still needs a wick.
          However, soot can act as a wick too (which is why a candle can burn for so long).

    • by mirix (1649853)

      Mineral oil is combustible in the same way that wax, sugar, wood, etc, are. It burns, but it isn't flammable, as the flashpoint is way too high.

      You need to hold it at a high temperature to sustain combustion (like a wick, for example).

    • by Jawnn (445279)
      "Flammable" is a relative term, in practice. Most things will burn, given the right conditions, "oil" included. But there are many types of "oil", some hydrocarbon, some not. Each type will have it's own "flash point" and "flame point". It's safe to assume that the oil used for cooling servers will have values for those characteristics will above what will likely be seen in the data center.
    • by cyn1c77 (928549)

      Is it really a good idea to put computers and hydrocarbons that closely together?

      What if there's a fire?

      It works really well if you keep the oxygen out of the system or if the oil vapor pressure is low enough that it doesn't create a flammable headspace.

  • This brings back good memory for the liquid metal CPU cooler that I used a while back

    A review is at http://www.guru3d.com/article/danamics-lmx-superleggera-review/ [guru3d.com]

    Unfortunately the vendor already closed its doors, or I would have bought more coolers from them

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      That things is completely ridiculous.

      If you have to build a custom case because your cooler is a giant turbine, you might as well go with immersion as so many others have in the past. [google.com]
    • by scheme (19778) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:08PM (#41230049)

      The cooler uses a NaK alloy. Check youtube and you'll see that this reacts violently with water and will ignite in air. The company claims that they wouldn't worry about leaks in the cooler but I wouldn't trust them or want that stuff near my expensive hardware. The craziness of using NaK alloy as a coolant for a computer is probably why the company closed it's doors.

      • The cooler uses a NaK alloy. Check youtube and you'll see that this reacts violently with water and will ignite in air. The company claims that they wouldn't worry about leaks in the cooler but I wouldn't trust them or want that stuff near my expensive hardware. The craziness of using NaK alloy as a coolant for a computer is probably why the company closed it's doors.

        Not to mention it is twice as much money as the zalman which outperforms this cooler in every way.

      • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:49AM (#41232345) Journal

        I wouldn't trust them or want that stuff near my expensive hardware.

        Wow, you care WAAAAY too much about your hardware.

        I wouldn't tust them or want that stuff near ME.

        Screw the computer.

    • Holy Christ. That thing is pumping sodium-potassium alloy through your computer. This stuff is used for coolant in some nuclear reactors. I had a passing thought some years ago at how humorous it would be if someone was actually crazy enough to use it to cool a desktop computer. It's a good coolant but it is VERY volatile. I don't think I, or my insurance, would be very comfortable having that in my home.

      Danamics had this to say in the guru3d article:

      But what if the product leaks, one might ask? Well simply

      • by ThePeices (635180)

        If a technology company cant even spell leak ( leek ) or moisture ( moist ) then I have absolutely no faith in anything that they do.

        If they let simple things like that slide, then who knows what else they have missed.

        No thanks.

  • I hope this stuff hits the discount rack soon.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @08:25PM (#41229695)
    ...but if you put the server room near the cafeteria, you can make fries too.
  • Everything old is new again.
  • by sub67 (979309) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @08:31PM (#41229743)
    Seems to me this would add a considerable load to whatever flooring is in place.
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @08:40PM (#41229805)

    ... that the British don't build computers because they couldn't figure out how to get them to leak oil.

    I welcome our new UK computing overlords.

    • by mirix (1649853)

      Perhaps they can get Lucas involved. Then it can leak oil and release magic smoke at the same time.

  • I was considering something like this a few years ago. But instead I went with conventional air cooling inside an ornately carved wooden case instead.

    Note that capillary action inside the cable tends to create oil drips all over the place unless you inject glue/epoxy into all your cables to seal the the tiny gaps between insulators..

    http://www.pugetsystems.com/aquarium_computer/V2/module.php

  • The first place I ran across the concept was Tom's Hardware, and you can still see the original article. "High Performance Computing" says Intel? Pish Tosh. Kids, you really can try this at home... but get a grown-up to assist you!

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/strip-fans,1203.html [tomshardware.com]

  • by Microlith (54737) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:33PM (#41230213)

    http://web.archive.org/web/19991006062047/http://www.accsdata.com/drffreeze/TestBox2.htm [archive.org]

    Sadly, all the pictures appear to have been lost.

    I remember this guy going through and dunking his systems in Mineral oil over a decade ago, back when I was in 11th grade. You know, back with the BP6 was amazing shit and slotkets were an essential overclocker's tool.

  • something that was proven to be fine in 1985?

    sure it wasnt oil, it was an exotic chemical developed by 3M but the point still stands

    'We're evaluating how (immersion cooling) can change the way data centers are designed and operated,'

    its been proven on machines that produced much more waste heat than today 27 years ago in the cray 2

    not to mention countless people using oil to cool their high voltage transformers and overclocekd P4's, but yay, GO Intel, grats on the prior art, obious patent in the nea

    • by afidel (530433)

      The cray2 didn't use that much more power than todays high density systems, 195kw in about the same floorspace as four racks, which is inline with high density designs of today. I'd imagine that's why we're looking at similar solutions.

  • I've always wondered - Why aren't cold places full of datacenters? Just pump the air in from outside. Yakutsk (well known to anyone who plays Risk) is a city that gets down to -50C in the winter, or something like that. In the summer it rarely gets above +20C. You'd figure there'd be a booming business building datacenters in these places.
    • by symbolset (646467) *
      They do. There is considerable expansion in Canadian datacenters right now, and I believe Greenland too. Latencies can be an issue, but for some things like compute clouds it's not a concern. Ambient cooling is making big strides, as is datacenter thermal energy recovery. If you throw off heat it's possible to use it for other industrial uses, to heat human spaces, to melt the ice on streets and sidewalks and so on.
    • Dew point. Colder than that and you have to deal with condensation.

      Oil works well, but current solutions work with total immersion and that's a freakin mess. And seeing the heatsink capacity of water is higher to begin with, warm water cooling is a much more practical solution.

      • Cold arctic air is often dry. And if you must extract humidity even lower, the compressors aren't going to have to work as hard due to the difference in Delta T. Either way, hosting data centers in colder climate is better than someplace in the sub tropics.

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      You must have missed the last six months worth of news stories about Facebook's selection of their new datacenter. Not only is the year-round temp ~60F, but it's right next door to a series of giant hydroelectric dams in one of the wettest regions of North America.

  • Do you want fries with that?

  • Floor loading. How much is a rack of oil filled servers going to weigh?

  • by MDMurphy (208495) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:29PM (#41230613)

    I spent most of the 80's working on flight simulators that had rows of cabinets on raised flooring. One sim was supposed to be at 70F and the temp was usually so stable that if it was up more than a few degrees we could tell by feel and smell as soon as we walked in the room.

    By shear luck I worked on simulators in Las Vegas, New Mexico and South Korea, all places that in the summer you really wouldn't want to be working outside. The constant temp during working hours was great ( though I think it made me more of a wimp for temp extremes when I went outside ) Thinking about the oil immersion and what I'd guess would be warmer ambient temps in computer rooms is a little sad. It was the extra cool computer rooms that I worked in that added to the appeal of my job back then.

  • After the oil has been heated up by all those processors, pipe it to nearby fast food restaurants to cook French fries and all those other delicious, fattening foods! Yum!

  • 1998 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slackware 3.6 (2524328) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:40PM (#41230681)
    And I was using a mineral oil bath (bar frige guts were used to keep the oil cool) to cool my over clocked Pentium. HDD, optical drives and power supply sat on a grate at the top of the coleman cooler and every thing else was submerged. I even did it with distilled water for a bit but it was to hard to keep the water clean.
  • "hard drives [...] withstood the oil just fine"

    I'd like to know if they used off-the-shelf hard drives for this. I find it hard to believe that a hard drive would work in oil. They usually have breathing holes, wouldn't oil get into the drive and interfere with the moving parts?

  • So, still haven't licked that optical chip problem yet?

  • Glancing through the headlines with divided attention, I mentally juxtaposed the headings of two successive stories, yielding "Iran embraces oil immersion for critics".

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