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The trend toward high-density installations with higher-powered CPUs has made heat a critical issue in data centers. Blade servers present a special challenge—a rack of blade servers can dissipate more... more/see it nowthan 25 kW, generating more heat than an electric oven.
The heat generated in today’s high-density data centers can shorten equipment lifespan, negatively affect equipment performance, and cause downtime.
Traditional air-cooling methods such as hot/cold aisle arrangements simply can’t keep up with these heat-generating installations. Data center managers often try to compensate for the inefficiency of air cooling by under-populating racks, but this wastes space—an often scarce commodity in modern data centers.
Because of the inherent inefficiencies of air cooling, many data centers have turned to liquid cooling through water or other refrigerants. Liquids have far greater heat transfer properties than air—water is 3400 times more efficient than air—and can cool far greater equipment densities.
Liquid cooling is usually done at the rack level using the airflow from the servers to move the heat to a cooling unit where it’s removed by liquid, neutralizing heat at the source before it enters the room. Liquid cooling may also be done at the component level, where cooling liquid is delivered directly to individual components. Liquid cooling may also arrive in the form of portable units for cooling hot spots.
Liquid cooling options
Types of liquid cooling commonly used in data centers include:
- Cabinet-door liquid cooling: With this method, cooling units are special cabinet doors that contain sealed tubes filled with chilled liquid. The liquid is circulated through the door to remove heat vented by equipment fans. Because liquid-cooled doors can replace standard cabinet doors, they’re the favored method for retrofitting liquid cooling into existing data centers.
- Integrated liquid cooling: This consists of a specialized sealed cabinet that has channels for liquid cooling built into it to act as heat exchangers. Fans move hot air past the heat exchangers before sending the cooled air back to the servers. These cabinets are closed systems that release very little heat into the room.
- Component-based liquid cooling: Some servers are preconfigured with integrated liquid-based cooling modules. After the servers are installed, liquid is circulated through the cooling modules.
- Immersion cooling: This rather counterintuitive cooling method immerses servers in a non-conductive liquid, which is circulated to cool the servers.
- Portable liquid cooling: These are small units that operate by blowing air across water-cooled coils. They can usually accept water from any source—including a nearby faucet. They’re generally plumbed with ordinary garden hoses and require no special skills to use. Portable cooling units are intended for emergency cooling rather than as a permanent solution.
Liquid cooling requires a shift in the way you think about cooling. Installation may require that you acquire a new skill set or hire a professional installer. However, the space savings and cost savings gained through liquid cooling more than make up for the inconvenience of installing a new cooling technology.
Not only does liquid cooling enable data centers to operate at far greater densities than conventional air cooling does, it gets rid of the infrastructure associated with air cooling, enabling you to eliminate hot/cold aisles and raised floors. Liquid cooling can support from 25 to 80% more equipment in the same footprint, resulting in significantly lower infrastructure costs.
Add to this the fact that cooling is often the majority of a data center’s operating cost, and it’s plain to see why an investment in the efficiency of liquid cooling goes right to the bottom line.