Chip-level liquid cooling specialist ISR Inc. recently rolled out a commercial offering for the data center, the SprayCool M-Series. The Liberty Lake, Washington-based company said its liquid cooling technology can lower energy costs, boost chip performance and afford more flexibility for data centers pushing the limits on their CRAC units.
The SprayCool technology uses inert liquid in a closed loop system, directly applied to server chips. It's currently selling as an aftermarket attachment for x86 servers and racks.
Disaster recovery hosting company Liberty Lake Internet Exchange (LLIX), ISR's neighbor, has taken on some M-Series units and has been testing the system in its data center.
Octavio Morales, a data center manager and partner at LLIX, said he has been using SprayCool systems since the beginning of 2006 on a rack of Dell Inc. servers.
"We decided that we wanted to understand the value propositions -- enhanced CPU performance, lower power and better cooling," Morales said. "On the surface, it makes sense. We have servers that are spray-cooled and working great, and we want to quantify the benefits."
LLIX is running between 80%-90% capacity, so it is expanding its data center space, adding 60,000 sq. ft. -- a portion of which will be office space -- to a site adjacent to its current facility. Morales said this green-field opportunity is where LLIX would be likely to implement SprayCool.
"We're taking a conservative approach. We're not building out the entire expansion at once but doing it incrementally, subdividing the space," Morales said. "Rather than homogenize all infrastructure on SprayCool, we'll likely have islands in the data center using the technology. In many ways it is too early to dive headfirst into liquid cooling."
Morales said he liked the SprayCool approach better than the competing liquid cooling technologies because the M-Series seemed like less of a commitment to a liquid cooling system than a full blown chilled water rack cooling system. He also said he trusted ISR, which has been making liquid-cooled electronics mainly for the military since 1988, more than other companies that were just getting into the game.
Server manufacturers IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) have recently gotten into the liquid cooling business for x86 servers with their eServer Rear Door Heat Exchanger and HP Modular Cooling Systems. These technologies use chilled water to cool servers at a rack level.
Data center infrastructure vendor American Power Conversion (APC) and Emerson Network Power also offer liquid cooling technologies, including the Liebert XD, which uses liquid refrigerant rather than water.
The SprayCool technology is different in that it actually applies liquid directly to the hot server components. In the case of the M-Series, the system sprays a fine mist of nonconductive, noncorrosive liquid on chip components of x86 servers.
The liquid currently in use for the SprayCool technology is 3M's Fluorinert, which is odorless, tasteless and evaporates almost as quickly as it's spilled. The liquid's nonconductive properties make it harmless to electronics. Though SprayCool marketing director, Patchen Noelke, was quick to point out that SprayCool isn't married to Fluorinert, and it could work with other fluids.
The M-Series works by pumping this fluid from a reservoir at the bottom of the server rack. Each x86 box has a piece of clear tubing running into it. At the chip, the liquid hits a SprayCool nozzle, spraying Fluorinert over the component and heat sink. The liquid changes phase to gas, and that evaporation is what cools the component. The gas exits through the same tube, bubbling over the top of the liquid and back to the reservoir where it is cooled by the building's chilled water supply.
ISR has been working on manufacturers in the chip, server and infrastructure spaces, trying to get an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) deal for the SprayCool technology. Noelke couldn't give specifics as to where those talks are headed since nothing official had been finalized yet, but ISR appears to have people in the right place.
For example, Tahir Cader, SprayCool technical director for high-performance computing, helped write the AHSRAE 9.9 Technical Committee's new book on liquid cooling in the data center. The ASHRAE 9.9 group, currently chaired by Roger Schmidt of IBM, recently finished the liquid cooling book and it will be available in the coming months.
More parts adds potential problems
Cader said power efficiency in the data center is one of the driving forces when it came to putting the book together. According to Cader, liquid cooling can take up to 50% of the heat load and put it through chilled water or condenser water, which can bypass the CRAC units and chiller, allowing that capacity to be used elsewhere and improving the data center's coefficient of performance.
Despite the potential for savings, data center pros are leery of adding another layer of potential problems that could go wrong. But Cader was quick to point out that all liquid cooling technologies aren't created equal in that regard.
"The cooling technologies offered now by Liebert and others -- if you look at the part count for many of these air-based technologies that are using liquid, the parts are going up," Cader said. "Our part count is driven way down compared to other technologies out there. Part count is directly related to reliability of your technology."
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