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May 28, 2020

Exploration into the Next Generation of immersion-cooled Datacenters – Part 1 (of 2)

The New Generation Datacenters: The answers lie inside our own biology

SmartPodX detail of the CDU

Barcelona, Spain & DCDNY Virtual

Last 31st March 2020, Scott Noteboom (CTO of Submer) led a panel at #DCDNYCVirtual, entitled “Exploration into the next generation of immersion-cooled datacenters”.
In his presentation, Scott Noteboom focused on some aspects that explain how the transition to Immersion Cooling is the only possible way to cope with the rising computational densities, offering a solution that is highly-efficient and at the same time kind to the environment.
In this first article (of two), we just wanted to share with you a general picture of the current datacenter scenario and how Liquid Immersion Cooling will play a central role in the imminent revolution of the datacenter paradigm.

Immersion Cooling: Back to the Future

As reported in one of our blog articles, what we refer to as datacenters today, started out as computer rooms in the 60’s to house the first mainframe computers. While computers and servers evolved quickly over the years, an evolution of the datacenter itself per se and more specifically the cooling was not really necessary as the evolution in computing also brought significant innovations that allowed (apart from a few notable exceptions such as the CRAY 2 in 1985) denser computing and continued cooling with air and fans.

Liquid immersion cooling isn’t a new technology, it has been widely used since the 1940s to cool high-voltage transformers.

In the 1960s, IBM developed the very first direct liquid cooling system.
In the 1980s, with the advent of metal oxide semiconductors, the concept of a liquid cooling solution became less of a priority as this new method of packing multiple transistors didn’t generate the same proportionate heat as the size of the transistors and therefore their voltages were drastically reduced.
Today, cooling systems are definitely more complex and high-tech than 4-5 years ago, as cooling has had to catch up with the demands for denser computing and in part, the beginnings of Moore’s law breaking down.

Liquid Immersion Cooling is not a new technology, it has been widely used since the 1940s to cool high-voltage transformers.
In recent years, Immersion Cooling has come back into the spotlight and there is evidence that it will represent the most efficient cooling solution in the years to come and become mainstream in the not-so-distant future. In spite of the experts’ forecast, according to which the Immersion Cooling market in data centres is anticipated to register a CAGR of over 40%, during the forecast period (2020-2025), not everybody is fully convinced that Immersion Cooling can represent a viable solution. Submer (amongst others) are invested in Liquid Immersion Cooling and are gathering increasing support for their vision of this tech as the present and the future of next generation datacenters.

In recent years, Immersion Cooling has come back into the spotlight and there is evidence that it will represent the most efficient cooling solution in the years to come and become mainstream in the not-so-distant future.

From Evolution to Revolution

In the last few years, the datacentre industry has witnessed a major change in the global compute capability, with an increasing shift of workloads from on-premise infrastructure to the cloud. A new study revealed that datacentres computing output jumped six-fold from 2010 to 2018, with a general energy consumption rise of about 6%.
This growth is a reflection of a general, diffused and unstoppable digitalization process that has regarded small, medium and large enterprises as well as private citizens as “data consumers”. And it is reasonable to think that the penetration and adoption of the digital technologies at any level in every area and segment of the society will be boosted whenever a new behaviour pattern arises in the society (economic crisis, global health emergency situation, etc.)
The more the global cloud demand grows, the more the datacentres need to improve their performance, by increasing their efficiency. This has clearly a direct impact on other aspects related to the datacentre management and maintenance procedures, such as cooling. The heat-loads generated by modern datacentres to answer the “need of data” are far above traditional, server-based applications and this drastically increases the costs of cooling the equipment and the space needed to operate it effectively.
Attacking the challenge of cooling in the data centre with colder and forced air is nothing more than staying in line with what the industry has been doing for the last 50 years, a typical evolution of “adding fuel to the fire.” And it is also a process (which, like any evolution) is destined to end: data centres increasingly require higher densities (reaching 100 kW per rack will soon be normal and necessary), and it is simply not possible to think of cooling them with traditional methods (that is, by means of air). We must accept that we have already crossed the point of no return.
Immersion Cooling is a revolution that changes the rules of the game and opens the opportunity to irrefutable energy savings and heat reuse.

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