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Egenera rolls out new blades, liquid cooled chassis

Matt Stansberry

Egenera introduced this week its latest blade server product line, BladeFrame EX. The Marlboro, Mass. company claimed this third generation of hardware doubles I/O performance of its current product offering while remaining backwards compatible with previous generations of its blades.

As part of the rollout, Egenera partnered with power and cooling specialist, Columbus, Ohio Emerson Network Power, to cool the new blades. A combined product, called CoolFrame, packages Egenera's blades with Emerson's existing Liebert XD liquid cooling system.

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Liquid-cooled refrigerants solve density hot spots

Cool aid or Band-Aid?

According to Susan Davis, Egenera's vice president of marketing and product management, the blades can be sold with or without the Liebert liquid cooling technology. But according to Emerson figures, a new BladeFrame system pumps out 20,000 watts of heat, while a system with liquid cooling only dissipates 1,500 watts, which could turn into significant savings on energy dollars.

Liquid cooling is nothing new. IBM was cooling mainframes with water decades ago, but the industry eventually moved away from the technology. Now more companies are investing in liquid cooling to meet the requirements of denser, hotter machinery that can't be cooled by air alone.

Just six months ago, IBM's rolled out Cool Blue. Known officially as the eServer Rear Door Heat Exchanger, the product is actually a door that hinges to the back of an xSeries rack. The door has a hose installed in the floor that runs chilled water up the back of the unit.

Another liquid-based cooling vendor is SprayCool from Liberty Lake, Wash.-based ISR Inc., which uses the evaporation of a non-conductive liquid to cool components.

Emerson and Egenera are both quick to point out that the Liebert XD is different from chilled water systems. Instead of water, the Liebert XD pumps liquid refrigerant that is converted to a gas within the heat exchangers, and then it is returned to the pumping station where it is re-condensed to a liquid.

Liebert uses R134a -- and because it changes phase from liquid to gas, it is more efficient to pump than water. And when or if it leaks, the refrigerant leaks as a gas, harmless to data center equipment.

When IBM launched Cool Blue, Egenera went on the offensive, calling IBM's product a bolt-on solution to heat problems IBM couldn't solve at the server level. Six months later, Egenera is launching its own supplemental cooling system.

Many experts have said liquid cooling is inevitable. Critics charge that liquid cooling brings unneeded plumbing headaches and reduces floorprint flexibility. Still, even the most ardent naysayers will agree that it does what it sets out to do -- cool down your room's hottest spots much better than air conditioning can.

"For dense systems going forward, you'll have to have either liquid cooling or complex airflow designs," said Gordon Haff, analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata. "[Liquid cooling] may very well be better than the alternative, giant air plenums and lots of fans."

Tony Iams, vice president at Rye Brook, N.Y.-based Ideas International agreed that liquid computing was a viable solution. But he said it is short sighted. "Liquid cooling helps, but it's short term. Processors are going to keep getting hotter. A long term fix will require evolution at the processor level."

Both agreed that while the server industry might be headed towards liquid cooling, data center pros won't have to. "Nobody is forcing anyone into liquid cooling today," Haff said. "The alternative is to not go as dense."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor


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