Intel Explores Submerged Servers

The demand for high-powered data centers continues to climb, as does the temperature of those data centers. Keeping servers cool has typically been an energy-intensive task involving air cooling systems and larger buildings to house the servers. Intel, however, has just completed a year-long trial with Austin, Texas-based Green Revolution Cooling that could lead to a new cooling approach: submerging servers in oil.

Submerged servers at CGGVeritas in Houston. Image: Green Revolution Cooling

Green Revolution uses mineral oil for submersion which, like water, reduces heat. Unlike water, the oil does not conduct electricity. In this case, the servers inside the CarnoJet cooling racks are dunked in GreenDEF, a special formulation of white mineral oil that the company claims has 1,200 times more heat capacity by volume than air. Not only is this approach more energy efficient, it could also allow more servers to be packed into a smaller space.

Other innovations could follow. According to an article at Data Center Knowledge:

“The heat sink in these servers is optimized for air,” Mike Patterson, senior power and thermal architect, Intel, is quoted as saying. ”It’s not going to perform as well as if the heat sink is optimized for oil. Just how good could it be? We’ve proven to ourselves that they are efficient. It could mean that a higher clock speed is possible in an oil immersion installation.”

The chipmaker plans to work directly with HPC customers and OEMs to develop equipment optimized for immersion cooling. Super Micro Computer has also announced it will provide full warranty coverage for servers in the CarnotJet racks.

Liquid cooling isn’t a new idea in supercomputing (the Cray-2 was pumped full of 3M’s Fluorinert back in the 1980s), but Intel’s endorsement could lead to larger scale use of the technology. Plus, the mineral oil is much more environmentally friendly.

You can see a video of the CarnotJet in action below, and other videos demonstrating the (admittedly messy) service and cable management procedures here:

Source: Data Center Knowledge

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One Response to Intel Explores Submerged Servers

  • William Ketel says:

    Oil cooled electronics predates the CRAY computerby at least ten years. The initial versions of the fuel controllers for the Chrysler Electronic Fuel Metering system were located in a plastic box on top of the engine, immersed in some kind of thermally conductive oil. They were quite messy to work on. So oil cooling is not that new. It does work but it is messy, and if there is an adequate system for removing heat from the oil, then it may work fairly well. One large challenge wwould be the disk drives, since any oil inside a hard drive would cause instant destruction. Aside from that, it is vital to keep the oil clean and dry. The good news is that all of the technology and hardware to handle the oil has been in existance for a long time, as part of the hydraulics servo technology.
    So good luck on the “fondue system” of server cooling.


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