While it is common for data center designers to focus on maximizing performance at the lowest possible operating cost, they are increasingly considering the larger picture of sustainability. For example, data centers consume more power than ever thanks to high-performing, high-wattage CPUs. Many corporations have committed to fast-approaching carbon neutrality goals. In response, organizations can leverage improvements in immersion cooling technology that accommodate higher-performing hardware while demanding less power than ever to cool.
The Current State of Cooling
Many of today's data centers were designed to accommodate the cooling methods of decades ago. Case in point, server rooms needed to be chilled before immersion cooling. That's because air, blown by fans onto CPUs, was the only viable method to keep them running cool enough. It's a strategy that worked for many years, partly because older CPUs operated at 125 to 150 watts.
Unfortunately, moving air onto a motherboard requires space, and the fans that drive the air require electricity. Therefore, as CPUs generated more heat due to increased performance, more powerful fans, and more space were needed, increasing the data center's overall power consumption.
Today, the latest CPUs from Intel and AMD operate at 350 to 400 watts, creating a dilemma. How do data center managers keep higher-performing CPUs running at optimal performance levels while simultaneously processing the heat they produce?
Immersion Cooling Technologies
One approach to the cooling dilemma of high-performance processors is direct-to-chip liquid cooling (DCLC). It involves building lines of cooling fluid that flow directly to the sources of heat within the server, like CPUs and GPUs. This technology has served well in specialized operations like supercomputers but only allows for the flexibility and scalability other organizations need.
Immersion cooling entails the submersion of entire servers in specialized fluids that dissipate heat. Single-phase immersion involves using a heat-exchanging device to process heat and circulate cold fluid back to the server. Conversely, two-phase immersion employs a condenser that permits the fluid to stay in place, evaporate, and condense, all in a self-contained system.
Either way, both types of cooling improve a facility's Power Usage Effectiveness ratio (PUE), which compares a data center's maintenance and overall power usage. For example, a PUE of 1.3 would mean that, compared to the power needed to process data, a data center spends 30% more to cool and maintain the facility. With immersion cooling, data centers can achieve PUE ratios of 1.1 to 1.2. This benefit is especially significant in some localities where governments measure and regulate this metric.
In addition to better PUE ratios, immersion cooling promotes higher CPU density. In other words, when efficiently cooled, each server requires less rack space. Therefore, more servers can occupy a given area, lowering the overall square footage the data center needs (and, in turn, its power consumption).
Single-Phase Immersion Cooling - Sustainability Benefits
Often, a waste product in one part of a building can be scarce in others. For example, although excess heat is an unwanted byproduct of data centers, other areas within buildings may need it to heat an entire building or its swimming pool. Today, hotel chains with large buildings are building these kinds of reclamation systems.
As a result, the same hotel can reduce both its PUE for its data center and its heating costs for its pool. It's a way for that organization to move closer to the full sustainability of its operations.
Two-Phase Immersion Cooling - Sustainability Benefits
Two-phase immersion cooling has the benefit of being self-contained. In other words, the system doesn't need to circulate its fluid outward to process heat. As a result, this approach can be convenient for installations in remote or Edge locations where space and maintenance personnel are scarce.
For example, a high-performing cell network often requires equipment to operate in remote locations under harsh conditions. These remote facilities may not have extensive (if any) HVAC capabilities, so the equipment within them must be self-sustainable against many hazards, including heat.
Other IT Practices that Promote Sustainability
While cooling is one significant way an IT organization can progress toward sustainability, it's not the only one. Containerization of servers can reduce the number of physical CPUs running at any given time and lower the data center's heat generated and energy consumed.
In addition, companies can promote sustainability by expanding computing power outward with efficient and rugged Edge servers that support remote or hybrid work. As a result, using fewer in-house personnel enables firms to use smaller facilities that consume less power. Not to mention, their employees burn less carbon by commuting less often.
UNICOM Engineering - Designing Your Next Cooling Solution
Look to UNICOM Engineering to provide the systems integration and sustainability expertise you need. As an Intel Technology Provider and Dell Technologies OEM Partner, we can supply, build, and support the best hardware to meet or exceed the needs of your application and help you bring it to market faster - running more efficiently and sustainably than ever. Schedule a consultation today to learn how we can keep you moving forward on your AI journey.