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Liquid cooling is your friend, ASHRAE speakers say

Liquid is starting to make inroads in the data center, thanks to its ability to cool things off thousands of times better than air.

DALLAS -- Be it at the room, rack or chip level, when it comes to the data center, liquid cooling is where it's at.

Or at least, that's where it should be, according to speakers at the winter conference for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) yesterday. According to several surveys, power and cooling are major woes for data center managers.

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"The data center, the servers, the storage, the processors, and consequently, the heat removal, have become a very critical problem," said Herb Villa, technical manager for rack enclosure manufacturer Rittal Corp. "It is now limiting potential growth in terms of being able to provide the service."

Liquid cooling is nothing new to ASHRAE; its Technical Committee 9.9 published a book last month on the subject. In a recent interview about the liquid cooling book, committee member Don Beaty said that water is 3,500 times more effective at cooling than air.

Vendors are no newcomers to liquid cooling, either. Aside from Rittal with its Liquid Cooling Package module that cools servers at the rack level, major server OEMs, like IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) have their eServer Rear Door Heat Exchanger and HP Modular Cooling Systems, respectively. Other power and cooling companies, like American Power Conversion Corp. (APC) and Emerson Network Power also offer liquid cooling products.

In his talk, Villas described the disadvantages of cooling IT equipment with air: high noise, potential for more contaminants to be blown around and reduced service life of the components, as well as the advantages of liquid cooling: increased mean time between failure, shorter mean time to repair, ability to pack IT equipment in tighter and greater temperature stability.

"Do not be afraid of the water," he said.

After Villa evangelized about the benefits of liquid-cooled racks, Tahir Cader, a technical director for ISR Inc., took the stage to talk about SprayCool, a chip-level liquid cooling solution.

ISR last year rolled out its chip-level liquid cooling technology, which pumps in an inert liquid and sprays it directly onto the hot chip to cool it down. The product has drawn the attention of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has been using it in its own data center and providing test results in return.

ISR and the lab configured a rack of Itanium-based HP servers for the project, removing CPU fans and installing the SprayCool technology. After a year of testing, the study found that the liquid-cooled servers kept the chips from eight degrees to 19 degrees Celsius cooler, had an uptime of almost 97% and performed applications just as well as equivalent air-cooled models.

The lab also determined that it would get its investment back in less than three years from savings in energy costs and floor space.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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