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Data Center Cooling: From Seawater to Oil

Intel has announced it has just completed a year-long test submerging a rack of servers in mineral oil, with powerful results.

First there was seawater, now there is oil.

As data center engineers continue to search for new, more efficient ways to cool down their power-guzzling servers and facilities, last year, Google announced that it was using seawater to cool a data center which it opened on the coast of Finland.

Now, Intel has announced it has just completed a year-long test submerging a rack of servers in mineral oil, with powerful results.

Mineral oil transfers heat almost as well as water but doesn’t conduct an electric charge, which why Intel engineers decided it was a perfect fit for liquid cooling. Data Center Knowledge reports that this new approach to liquid cooling could soon see broader adoption in the high performance computing sector.

“We continue to explore server designs, and we’re evaluating how (immersion cooling) can change the way data centers are designed and operated,” Mike Patterson, senior power and thermal architect at Intel, told Data Center Knowledge. ”It’s obviously quite a change in mindset.”

The testing was conducted with immersion cooling equipment from Green Revolution Cooling at an Intel data center in New Mexico.

Intel says it saw some of the best power usage efficiency ratings it’s witnessed to date, with oil-cooled computers superior in efficiency to identical air-cooled units. The oil is said not to have adversely affected hardware reliability. Data Center Knowledge reports that cost savings could be huge, since server rooms would no longer need to be designed with raised floors, air conditioning units or chillers.

From Data Center Knowledge:

Austin-based Green Revolution 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. Green Revolution’s CarnotJet cooling racks are filled with 250 gallons of dielectric fluid, with servers inserted vertically into slots in the enclosure. Fluid temperature is maintained by a pump with a heat exchanger using a standard water loop.

Intel says it can work directly with HPC customers or with server OEMs to provide equipment optimized for these alternative cooling designs, Data Center Knowledge reported.

On a separate note, Intel points out that some mineral oil-style coolants can be messy to maintain.

Intel’s technicians apparently always had an extra set of clothes handy in case there were any coolant spills.

In other words, don’t let your kids try this with your laptop at home.

Melanie Rodier has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for over 10 years, covering business and finance, general news, and film trade news. Prior to joining Wall Street & Technology in April 2007, Melanie lived in Paris, where she worked for the International Herald ... View Full Bio

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