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University of Leeds trials total immersion cooling

University of Leeds trials total immersion cooling

The Iceotope system, currently under test at the University of Leeds, uses total immersion technology to cool 20KW of server hardware using just 80W of power.

The University of Leeds is testing a new type of liquid-cooled server which it hopes could dramatically cut the costs and environmental impact of running a modern data centre.

Developed by UK-based Iceotope in partnership with a research team from the University of Leeds' School of Mechanical Engineering, led by Dr. Jon Summers, the new server uses a form of total-immersion cooling using a non-conductive liquid some 1,000 times more efficient at carrying heat than air. Developed by 3M, the Novec liquid sits in contact with the entire system and is itself cooled by a low-energy pump at the base of each cabinet that transfers water - acting as a secondary coolant - to a passive system at the top where it cascades back down thanks to the magic of gravity.

This secondary coolant, which is not in contact with the electrical components of the server, then goes to heat exchangers that transfer the heat to an external loop - using, in an ideal world, 'grey water' sources such as river water or rainwater to reduce dependence on clean water sources - where it is transferred to an external cooling radiator outside the building or re-used to provide heat to other areas of the University.

According to Iceotope's testing, the three-stage system draws just 80W of power in order to cool 20KW of server hardware, making it considerably more efficient than air cooling or traditional liquid-cooling systems. It is also claimed to be extremely efficient at preventing heat from being transferred to the server room itself, reducing the need for expensive HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Cooling) while its insulation of the server's hardware from the surrounding environment means there's little need for humidity control or air purification.

There are, naturally, other advantages to a server room that doesn't need fans. 'The fact that this system is completely enclosed raises a host of possibilities. It does not interact with its environment in the way an air-cooled server does, so you could put it in an extreme environment like the desert,' said the University of Leeds' Dr. Nikil Kapur of the trial system. 'It is also completely silent. You could have it on a submarine or in a classroom.'

Iceotope has grander visions, however: while the technology will start in the data centre, the company has its eyes on the living room. 'More than five years of research, innovation and collaboration have gone into Iceotope's technology. The basic principle of the design has many applications and, while a few years away, there is no reason why every home shouldn't make better use of the surplus heat from consumer electronics,' claimed Iceotope's chief technology officer and inventor of the system. 'Imagine having your PC or TV plumbed into the central heating system.'

Iceotope isn't the first company to experiment with total-immersion cooling, of course: Hardcore Computer's LSS 200 launched last year with claims that data centre customers could save 40 per cent on their cooling bills, even when the cost of the system itself is taken into account, while the company also targeted the gamer market in 2008 with a similar system. Extreme modders have also used non-conductive liquids for immersion cooling, from cheap mineral oil to 3M's earlier Fluorinert product.

With the world's data centres using an estimated 31 gigawatts of electricity - a considerable chunk of which goes into cooling, rather than powering, the machines - systems like Iceotope's and Hardcore Computer's will likely become increasingly popular - and what starts in the data centre inevitably trickles down to the desktop eventually. For now, however, there's just this wonderful teaser video in which the non-conductive properties of Novec are proven with the aid of an iPhone:

17 Comments

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greigaitken 27th February 2013, 12:22 Quote
"Imagine having your PC or TV plumbed into the central heating system."
Yeah! instead of all that wasted heat energy being pushed out into my room, i could have it connected to my radiator to push the heat out into my room. Genius!
theshadow2001 27th February 2013, 12:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by greigaitken
"Imagine having your PC or TV plumbed into the central heating system."
Yeah! instead of all that wasted heat energy being pushed out into my room, i could have it connected to my radiator to push the heat out into my room. Genius!

This is actually something I have thought about after noticing how warm the computer labs got when I was in college. Basically if there was a way to recover that heat and distribute it around the campus. The solution provided here looks good.

You are thinking on too small a scale, just your own computer in your own room. But if you have massive amounts of computers or a server farm, finding a way to recover the waste heat energy could save a lot money. In fact money is spent trying to keept these kinds of rooms cool. You obviously don't want an entire server farm just heating the building within which they are kept, you want it moved out of that building and heating other rooms such as offices, labs etc. This would be even better if there was a way to store the heat energy and then access it when required.
greigaitken 27th February 2013, 12:58 Quote
"there is no reason why every home shouldn't make better use of the surplus heat from consumer electronics"

Iceotope are the ones thinking on the small scale. Large sure, consumer, lol good luck getting intelligent people to pay for zero energy gain.
Mankz 27th February 2013, 13:19 Quote
So basically, this is like using flurinert or whatever, connected to a heat exchanger, attached to a bong cooler ?
law99 27th February 2013, 13:32 Quote
Nice idea... but unfeasible.

What do you do if a component expires? Take a whole rack offline pumping the coolant somewhere, waiting ages?
Gareth Halfacree 27th February 2013, 13:38 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by law99
Nice idea... but unfeasible. What do you do if a component expires? Take a whole rack offline pumping the coolant somewhere, waiting ages?
They've considered that: each module is independent. If a component fails, you simply disconnect the module from the secondary cooling system and drain it of Novec, replace the component, refill and re-insert. Only that module is taken down; the rest of the cabinet continues as normal.

The exact same question was raised about the system unveiled last year with the same answer. Bear in mind this is a production system, following five years of development; Iceotope has thought through issues like that.
Skill3d 27th February 2013, 13:40 Quote
So we all go cloud computing and pay our heating-bills to the server farm-holders instead?
law99 27th February 2013, 13:43 Quote
Ok. Well that adds up.

I'd like to see that... surely pretty over engineered. How does routing cables between modules work? I guess you plug into the module, and the module has an external interface and internal interface to act as a go between for ethernet and fibre connections?

Edit: Air-con can be really expensive, and can still fail and require redundancy. So I can see many appeals. Although I wonder about the redundancy here... extra pumps easy enough, sure... but you'd need redundant plumbing also... also easy enough... but potentially expensive
Gareth Halfacree 27th February 2013, 13:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by law99
I'd like to see that... surely pretty over engineered. How does routing cables between modules work? I guess you plug into the module, and the module has an external interface and internal interface to act as a go between for ethernet and fibre connections?
Each module is an independent server. Power goes in, data comes out - exactly the same as any other server. While I don't have any pictures of Iceotope's modules to hand beyond the small image in the article, if you imagine something between Intel's Modular Server and a blade server you'll not be far wrong.
law99 27th February 2013, 13:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Each module is an independent server. Power goes in, data comes out - exactly the same as any other server. While I don't have any pictures of Iceotope's modules to hand beyond the small image in the article, if you imagine something between Intel's Modular Server and a blade server you'll not be far wrong.

Ok... so each server is independent entirely and I presume of Iceotope's own design although using standard hardware. (Their own case so to speak that can plug into their cooling system / proprietary rack.)

I did vaguely remember reading the article you link to above.

Pretty cool. Loads of potential though. Here for instance, it's cold in the winter in the office and the aircon is always being fixed, so plumbing in radiators on the cold months and switching over to another loop in the summer that goes under the building or anywhere out of direct sunlight.
steveo_mcg 27th February 2013, 15:41 Quote
A colleague of mine used to work in an office where the waste heat from the universities servers was pumped into the building to cut down on the heating, they apparently sat with the windows open all year it was so warm.
Andy Mc 27th February 2013, 15:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by law99
Edit: Air-con can be really expensive, and can still fail and require redundancy. So I can see many appeals. Although I wonder about the redundancy here... extra pumps easy enough, sure... but you'd need redundant plumbing also... also easy enough... but potentially expensive

These will most likely be connected to both some free air cooler(s) and traditional air-con units. The free air coolers are like giant radiators with a couple of big fans on top and use little electricity to cool the coolant down, the only draw back is that they only work in a fixed thermal window. Too cold or too hot and they have to run the coolant via the traditional aircon units.

We had one in my previous employers recent DC. They are pretty cool bits of kit. From memory there was never a single failure in the 2.5 years I was working from that site and I'm not sure if there have been any in the 14 months since I left either.
koaschten 27th February 2013, 19:44 Quote
Have you ever thought about the MESS this makes when you have to service one of those immersed servers? Or what happens to HDDs if you immerse them into liquid?
AiA 27th February 2013, 20:29 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by theshadow2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by greigaitken
"Imagine having your PC or TV plumbed into the central heating system."
Yeah! instead of all that wasted heat energy being pushed out into my room, i could have it connected to my radiator to push the heat out into my room. Genius!

This is actually something I have thought about after noticing how warm the computer labs got when I was in college. Basically if there was a way to recover that heat and distribute it around the campus. The solution provided here looks good.

You are thinking on too small a scale, just your own computer in your own room. But if you have massive amounts of computers or a server farm, finding a way to recover the waste heat energy could save a lot money. In fact money is spent trying to keept these kinds of rooms cool. You obviously don't want an entire server farm just heating the building within which they are kept, you want it moved out of that building and heating other rooms such as offices, labs etc. This would be even better if there was a way to store the heat energy and then access it when required.



Heat recovery ventilation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_recovery_ventilation

Just pipe the heat to where its needed
Will eventually be used in all new homes
dark_avenger 27th February 2013, 23:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by koaschten
Have you ever thought about the MESS this makes when you have to service one of those immersed servers? Or what happens to HDDs if you immerse them into liquid?

The HDD's would have to be in a separate rack as they don't run full of fluid.
metarinka 28th February 2013, 07:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by theshadow2001
This is actually something I have thought about after noticing how warm the computer labs got when I was in college. Basically if there was a way to recover that heat and distribute it around the campus. The solution provided here looks good.

You are thinking on too small a scale, just your own computer in your own room. But if you have massive amounts of computers or a server farm, finding a way to recover the waste heat energy could save a lot money. In fact money is spent trying to keept these kinds of rooms cool. You obviously don't want an entire server farm just heating the building within which they are kept, you want it moved out of that building and heating other rooms such as offices, labs etc. This would be even better if there was a way to store the heat energy and then access it when required.

to be fair, building designers already take into account the number of computers when they design heat/AC systems. In the winter a significant portion of the heat for a building can come from a server farm.
mayhem 28th February 2013, 15:21 Quote
We have Novac in stock here and its £170 a ltr for the best stuff they make and £120 for the cheapest stuff they have. And it isn't that good. Its all so in no way as good at removing heat as there older fluids and still no ware near as good as water no matter what leeds uni say.
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