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Total immersion cooling hits the data centre

Total immersion cooling hits the data centre

The LSS 200 submerges all its components in a dielectric fluid for extreme cooling performance.

If you thought that total immersion cooling was restricted to the extreme end of the enthusiast market, think again: Boston Limited has announced that it's bringing the technology the UK server rooms in the form of the LSS 200.

Developed in the US by the appropriately named Hardcore Computer Inc., the LSS 200 submerges every part of the computer to be cooled in a dielectric liquid the company calls Core Coolant. Thanks to its impressive ability to grab heat from components of around 1,350 times that of air, the result is a much cooler system.

While enthusiasts use such technology to overclock their systems to the limit, Boston has a more prosaic use in mind. By reducing the temperature of servers the server room becomes cooler, which in turn means businesses need to spend less on expensive air conditioning units. According to Boston's figures, that saving could be as high as 80 per cent; a total saving of 40 per cent when the cost of the system is taken into account.

That's not to say that performance isn't on some users' minds, however. Independent tests carried out on server hardware used in the financial services industry - where shaving a few nanoseconds off each transaction can be a deal-maker - showed performance boosted by 34 per cent over a traditionally cooled system.

'Regulating server temperatures has been an on-going challenge in data centres for many years, as it has a direct correlation with server power and performance,' explained president, chief technical officer and founder of Hardcore Computer Chad Attlesey at the announcement. 'Traditional cooling solutions have proven very costly and their efficiency is limited, thus data centres are continually battling with escalating power consumption and associated costs. The total liquid submersion cooling technology in the LSS 200 is the most effective solution on the market.'

While the LSS 200 isn't something you'll saving up for as an upgrade to your gaming machine - and is very much 'price on application - it's good news for consumers, too. Many technologies on the desktop started life in the server racks of large-scale data centres, meaning we can expect to see commercial off-the-shelf immersion cooling systems appear for home users within the next few years.

Hardcore Computer hasn't always targeted the enterprise sector, however. Back in 2008, it showed off a gaming PC featuring the same total immersion cooling technology, although the high price meant it wasn't much of a commercial success. The system was also only available as a pre-built kit, meaning it wasn't a tempting upgrade for those who wish to push their existing system to extremes of performance.

As a result, it's currently either a case of dig deep for enterprise-grade technology or do it yourself - as some of our readers are already doing.

Tempted by a total immersion cooling system, or do you think watercooling is already crazy enough? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

24 Comments

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Picarro 31st January 2012, 12:56 Quote
Sorry to say this but it won't reduce the heat in the server room. Even when submerged a 100w CPU will continue to use 100w which translates into 100w of heat. This heat has to escape somehow so unless they want to run mile long cooling tubes to the outside of the buildings these servers are to be in, it won't have a very large effect on the heat in a server room.
Gareth Halfacree 31st January 2012, 12:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Picarro
Sorry to say this but it won't reduce the heat in the server room. Even when submerged a 100w CPU will continue to use 100w which translates into 100w of heat. This heat has to escape somehow so unless they want to run mile long cooling tubes to the outside of the buildings these servers are to be in, it won't have a very large effect on the heat in a server room.
They already run cooling tubes to the outside of the building - that's how air conditioning works. What this technology does is remove air from the equation: instead of the server heating air, which heats liquid (in the air conditioning unit) which is then taken outside to cool off, the server heats the liquid directly.
Phil Rhodes 31st January 2012, 13:01 Quote
Well yes, you'd have to have radiators somewhere outside the server room. The choice of language in the article is a bit imprecise. Is this actually what they're talking about doing?
Picarro 31st January 2012, 13:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
They already run cooling tubes to the outside of the building - that's how air conditioning works. What this technology does is remove air from the equation: instead of the server heating air, which heats liquid (in the air conditioning unit) which is then taken outside to cool off, the server heats the liquid directly.

Ah ofcourse, my mind hadn't connected the dots that far
Gareth Halfacree 31st January 2012, 13:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Rhodes
Well yes, you'd have to have radiators somewhere outside the server room. The choice of language in the article is a bit imprecise. Is this actually what they're talking about doing?
That's up to the customer: those who just want to improve performance and don't care about HVAC costs can have radiators in the server room; those who want to recoup their investment with reduced HVAC costs can situate the radiators outside.
Phil Rhodes 31st January 2012, 13:09 Quote
The only remaining question I guess is: will all of the components on the motherboard stand being immersed in whatever-it-is-but-presumably-silicone-oil?
PureSilver 31st January 2012, 13:16 Quote
It's a good question as to what exactly the liquid is; there's a few builds on here using mineral oil but I remember that at least one user is using proper fluorinert, which I think had essentially no effect on motherboard components.
borandi 31st January 2012, 13:31 Quote
There are videos of a build by 3M I think, using a chemical called Fluorinert, a bare processor, and thermal-electric device. It costs $300 a gallon to make (it's a nice long chain halogen compound). The chemical boiled at 38C, so with a fan and a TEC it was able to cycle through the liquid even at load without issue.

The issue here is component failure and ease of replacement, and where data centres have hot-swappable devices. If equipment needs to be replaced, the whole thing has to be taken apart and drained. Hot-swap devices will need to be outside the coolant.
Gareth Halfacree 31st January 2012, 13:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by borandi
The issue here is component failure and ease of replacement, and where data centres have hot-swappable devices. If equipment needs to be replaced, the whole thing has to be taken apart and drained. Hot-swap devices will need to be outside the coolant.
The system is modular: only the affected node need be drained while the rest of the system continues unaffected.
Tattysnuc 31st January 2012, 14:11 Quote
I wasn't aware that this was in use in a server/enterprise environment - Nice! I'd be interested to see more on this principle and whether it is a way to cool the entire board sub-zero without having the threat of condensation. Also, do any materials have to be avoided as they react to the coolant.

Cheers

Tatty
feathers 31st January 2012, 17:10 Quote
"Total immersion cooling hits the data centre
Trickling down to the desktop." - There is nothing trickling down to the desktop. This won't appear in any off-the-shelf desktop systems so why write it?

So the company concerned produced one very expensive submerged consumer PC... what's trickling down to the desktop?
Gareth Halfacree 31st January 2012, 17:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by feathers
"Total immersion cooling hits the data centre
Trickling down to the desktop." - There is nothing trickling down to the desktop. This won't appear in any off-the-shelf desktop systems so why write it?

So the company concerned produced one very expensive submerged consumer PC... what's trickling down to the desktop?
Just out of interest, where do you think watercooling started? Hint: supercomputers and HPC, then data centres, then the desktop. Is it possible to buy off-the-shelf watercooling kits, and even pre-assembled watercooled gaming rigs? Yes. Yes, it is.

Just because you can't imagine it doesn't mean it won't happen. If everyone thought like you, the personal computing revolution would never have happened. "There'll never be any off-the-shelf computers for use in the home, so why write it? <sneer>"

Also: it's amazing how rude people can be when you give them anonymity and an audience...
Jqim 31st January 2012, 18:16 Quote
I would love to see the heat from the server room being used to heat the office in winter. Or possibly offset the energy used to heat water?? The air con in the server room broke once at my work and it really made me realise just how much energry is wasted, as it takes twice as much energy to cool it down. Its like haveing a pan on the hob and then when it gets to the right tempreture you put ice cubes from swedish lakes to keep it that way.
Aracos 31st January 2012, 20:30 Quote
Oooooo you go Gareth! You certainly look like you've been very interested in this area, it's nice to see :-)
longweight 31st January 2012, 21:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Just out of interest, where do you think watercooling started? Hint: supercomputers and HPC, then data centres, then the desktop. Is it possible to buy off-the-shelf watercooling kits, and even pre-assembled watercooled gaming rigs? Yes. Yes, it is.

Just because you can't imagine it doesn't mean it won't happen. If everyone thought like you, the personal computing revolution would never have happened. "There'll never be any off-the-shelf computers for use in the home, so why write it? <sneer>"

Also: it's amazing how rude people can be when you give them anonymity and an audience...

Feathers is the resident rude, abrasive and generally unhelpful member :)

I do love reading about new advances in technology such as this, it does make perfect sense and will hopefully one day be in my living room!
feathers 31st January 2012, 22:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by longweight
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Just out of interest, where do you think watercooling started? Hint: supercomputers and HPC, then data centres, then the desktop. Is it possible to buy off-the-shelf watercooling kits, and even pre-assembled watercooled gaming rigs? Yes. Yes, it is.

Just because you can't imagine it doesn't mean it won't happen. If everyone thought like you, the personal computing revolution would never have happened. "There'll never be any off-the-shelf computers for use in the home, so why write it? <sneer>"

Also: it's amazing how rude people can be when you give them anonymity and an audience...

Feathers is the resident rude, abrasive and generally unhelpful member :)

I do love reading about new advances in technology such as this, it does make perfect sense and will hopefully one day be in my living room!

I considered submerging my PC some years ago. When I thought more about it, I realised I didn't want to get my hands wet every time I installed a new part.
leslie 1st February 2012, 03:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by feathers
"Total immersion cooling hits the data centre
Trickling down to the desktop." - There is nothing trickling down to the desktop. This won't appear in any off-the-shelf desktop systems so why write it?

So the company concerned produced one very expensive submerged consumer PC... what's trickling down to the desktop?

Maybe not off-the-shelf right away, but they already had boutique immersion systems for the home back in 08. $5k for a quad core system, not cheap, but also not unheard of for boutique systems. http://www.bit-tech.net/news/2008/10/23/hardcore-computer-launches-immersion-cooled-pcs/1

Years ago we didn't expect an off-the-shelf watercooled system, and then Apple released the watecooled G5 and another company was at least working on a water cooled laptop.

While I would say this technology is pointless for the home as things are getting smaller and running cooler and more efficient, all that liquid is one heck good way of keeping customers from messing around inside. So I would half expect it on every Apple product in the near future. :D
metarinka 1st February 2012, 05:30 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Picarro
Sorry to say this but it won't reduce the heat in the server room. Even when submerged a 100w CPU will continue to use 100w which translates into 100w of heat. This heat has to escape somehow so unless they want to run mile long cooling tubes to the outside of the buildings these servers are to be in, it won't have a very large effect on the heat in a server room.

well not quite, liquid tends to have a higher thermal capacity. It takes a lot more energy to heat up a liquid, depending on the load you might find you an equilibrium temperature with the server room air that is much lower and more constant. Also there's a lot to be said for latent heat and heat of evaporation (can't remember the term) a lot of energy is lost during phase change so you can get a lot of cooling for free by designing a heat sink like that. I agree there's still 100w spewing from the CPU but that doesn't necessarily mean it will all end up heating the room.
metarinka 1st February 2012, 05:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jqim
I would love to see the heat from the server room being used to heat the office in winter. Or possibly offset the energy used to heat water?? The air con in the server room broke once at my work and it really made me realise just how much energry is wasted, as it takes twice as much energy to cool it down. Its like haveing a pan on the hob and then when it gets to the right tempreture you put ice cubes from swedish lakes to keep it that way.

some offices do this, places with big render farms like pixar will account for the heating of the computers. Most air con system designers will account for the heat of 1000 people + 1000+ computers when they design heaters and air conditioning systems. Unfortunately it's usually not cost effictive to pump server room heat into something useable for space heating.
mclean007 1st February 2012, 06:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
Unfortunately it's usually not cost effictive to pump server room heat into something useable for space heating.
Agreed - it is low grade heat, and the energy cost of moving it around to heat office space etc. is likely to outweigh the benefits vs simply dumping it and heating the office separately. And it simply isn't hot enough to be used to meaningfully pre-heat water. Large scale HVAC systems are actually very efficient heaters anyway, because they can often run the cooling loop effectively in reverse, so you heat the inside of a building chilling air outside, effectively pumping heat energy in.

I did read once of a clever idea for a datacentre in the remote north of Scotland using power from a nearby tidal system (thereby vastly reducing transmission losses) and using warm air from the server room to heat large nearby greenhouses.

http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2009/01/28/scottish-server-farms-team-on-tidal-power/
Nexxo 1st February 2012, 08:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by feathers
"Total immersion cooling hits the data centre
Trickling down to the desktop." - There is nothing trickling down to the desktop. This won't appear in any off-the-shelf desktop systems so why write it?

So the company concerned produced one very expensive submerged consumer PC... what's trickling down to the desktop?

In addition to Hardcore Computer launching a commercial model in 2008 (see Leslie's link), Amari produced a one-off concept immersion cooled computer (containing Fluorinert; which incidentally is what cools my rig) a few years ago. The company manager told me at the London International Technology Show that they are currently working on a cheaper commercial model for mass production.

Some people don't swap their components so much that immersion cooling would be impractical. In fact I almost bet most hard-core geeks would happily put up with that for the sheer coolness of immersion cooling.
feathers 1st February 2012, 10:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
Quote:
Originally Posted by feathers
"Total immersion cooling hits the data centre
Trickling down to the desktop." - There is nothing trickling down to the desktop. This won't appear in any off-the-shelf desktop systems so why write it?

So the company concerned produced one very expensive submerged consumer PC... what's trickling down to the desktop?

In addition to Hardcore Computer launching a commercial model in 2008 (see Leslie's link), Amari produced a one-off concept immersion cooled computer (containing Fluorinert; which incidentally is what cools my rig) a few years ago. The company manager told me at the London International Technology Show that they are currently working on a cheaper commercial model for mass production.

Some people don't swap their components so much that immersion cooling would be impractical. In fact I almost bet most hard-core geeks would happily put up with that for the sheer coolness of immersion cooling.

I remember that concept computer. Is your hardware submersed or are you using the coolant in a closed loop? Does flourinert cool better than water? I know it has much lower viscosity.... would it cool better than existing liquids in a closed loop?
aeidau 1st February 2012, 16:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by PureSilver
It's a good question as to what exactly the liquid is; there's a few builds on here using mineral oil but I remember that at least one user is using proper fluorinert, which I think had essentially no effect on motherboard components.

Core Coolant is different from Fluorinert™ and Mineral transformer oil.
Core Coolant™ is dielectric, biodegradable, non-toxic, non-hazardous cooling oil that is made from food grade synthetic oils. It is also clear and has a freezing point of -45 degrees celsius. So below ambient and even below 0 degrees celsius cooling is possible without the risk of condensation because the electronics are sealed.
Quote:
Originally Posted by feathers
"Total immersion cooling hits the data center
Trickling down to the desktop." - There is nothing trickling down to the desktop. This won't appear in any off-the-shelf desktop systems so why write it?

So the company concerned produced one very expensive submerged consumer PC... what's trickling down to the desktop?

Hardcore Computer do offer a bare-bones solution via request. (Chassis with motherboard, PSU, and all the cooling gear required to run it)
Nexxo 1st February 2012, 20:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by feathers
I remember that concept computer. Is your hardware submersed or are you using the coolant in a closed loop? Does flourinert cool better than water? I know it has much lower viscosity.... would it cool better than existing liquids in a closed loop?

Mine is in a loop. Fluorinert evaporates at room temperature so immersion would require an airtight chamber --which is a bit tricky to build. Temperatures are comparable to water.
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