Thursday, 28 February 2013
First, servers were DEEP-FRIED... now, boffins bring you WET ones
We've seen quite a few innovative engineers who have tried to bring down data centre cooling costs, including this mad crowd who dunked theirs in a deep fryer... Now boffins at Leeds University and British start-up Icetope have invented a super cooling liquid that could create a new generation of "wet servers". They say it could cut the cooling costs of the world's server farms by 97 per cent.
The heat generated by servers is a significant cost for data centres: Facebook evaded it by siting a European data centre in an icebound mountain in Finland, but the invention from Leeds could allow for a much simpler way to reduce cooling bills. Leeds University's Dr Jon Summers demoed a working prototype of the wet server this week.
Dunking servers in new magic liquid 3M Novec reduces the cooling system's energy use by 80 - 97 per cent, compared to cooling systems that use air. Air cooling is inefficient because it is a poor conductor, produces diffuse general heat and requires energy-chomping high powered fans, said the boffins.
3M Novec is also a thousand times better at conducting heat than water, and one low-powered fan in a chamber of 3M Novec is adequate to chill a server array.
Crucially the liquid doesn't conduct electricity, so is safe on electronics. In the vid below, Dr Summers dunks a standard mobe and an iPhone in a beaker of 3M Novec to show how the liquid leaves gadgetry unaffected.
The method paves the way for servers in inhospitable places - including submarines. Dr Nikil Kapur, also from the University of Leeds School of Mechanical Engineering, explains:
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. It is also completely silent. You could have it on a submarine or in a classroom.
In the prototype cooling system unveiled this week, a Novec cooling circuit 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.
Peter Hopton, Iceotope’s chief technology officer, one of the boffins who cooked up the concept, said that the implications of the cooling system go way beyond server farms:
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, imagine having your PC or TV plumbed into the central heating system.