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UK Researchers Demonstrate Prototype Wet Server Process for Energy-Efficient IT Cooling
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February 28, 2013

UK Researchers Demonstrate Prototype Wet Server Process for Energy-Efficient IT Cooling

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
TMCnet Contributor

What’s the biggest expense in a data center? The servers and the power to run them? The IT personnel?

While both of these things contribute to expenses, many companies find that their number-one expense is cooling: after all, IT equipment needs to be kept at an optimum temperature of 20-21°C (68-71°F).

In many parts of the world, this means air conditioning, and lots of it.

Most data centers, because of inefficient design, consume vast amounts of energy in a wasteful way. Online companies, for example, often run servers at maximum capacity 24 hours a day regardless of demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, the New York Times reported last year.  

This also means that the need for cooling remains high and constant.

“Green” data centers are all the rage today, and it’s not just a feel-good thing. By reducing the need for energy, data centers can run on less money and consume fewer of the world’s resources. (By some accounts, data centers use between one and three percent of the world’s energy).

For this reason, many IT manufacturers have experimented with new and unusual methods to cool servers in a more efficient method than blasting them with air conditioning. This week, researchers at Leeds University in England and British startup company Icetope say they have invented a super cooling liquid that could create a new generation of what’s called “wet” servers, or servers partially immersed in cooling liquid.

The two organizations say it could cut the cooling costs of the world's server farms by 97 percent, according to the Register. The process involves immersing servers in a non-conducting liquid called 3M (News - Alert) Novec to reduce the cooling system's energy use.

“The fact that this system is completely enclosed raises a host of possibilities,” said Dr. Nikil Kapur of the University of Leeds School of Mechanical Engineering. “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. It is also completely silent. You could have it on a submarine or in a classroom.”

The prototype cooling system recently introduced by the university and Icetope involves a Novec cooling circuit that transfers the heat to a primary water circuit, which can pass it onto a secondary set of water pipes. Because of the high cooling efficiency of the system, the output water can reach temperatures of up to 50°C (122°F) – hot enough to be used for radiators.

See a demonstration of the process in the clip above.

Edited by Braden Becker

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