April 23, 2024

Data Center Liquid Immersion Cooling: The Future of Eco-Friendly Computing

As data centers around the world continue to grow exponentially in size and power consumption to meet increasing computing demands, reducing their energy usage and environmental impact has become a top priority. Traditional air cooling techniques are struggling to efficiently cool today’s densely packed servers and high-power IT equipment. Liquid immersion cooling is emerging as a revolutionary new approach that can significantly lower data center energy usage and operating costs while reducing their carbon footprint. Let’s explore how this innovative cooling technology works and why it holds so much promise for the future of sustainable data center operations.

What is Liquid Immersion Cooling?
Liquid immersion cooling  involves submerging servers and other IT equipment in specialized non-conductive dielectric liquid, usually a fluorocarbon or synthetic oil. This liquid has excellent insulating and heat transfer properties. When electronic components are placed in the liquid bath, it removes heat from them far more effectively than air cooling alone. The warmed liquid is then circulated through a heat exchanger where it transfers its accumulated heat to another liquid that carries the warmth outside to an air or water cooling system.

Key Components of an Immersion Cooling System
A typical immersion cooling system contains several key components:

– Dielectric Coolant – The non-conductive fluorocarbon or synthetic oil used to submerge the servers and efficiently extract heat away from their surfaces. These fluids have very high boiling points so they remain in a liquid state even when warm.

– Immersion Tank – A sealed tank where servers and other IT equipment are safely submerged in the coolant. The tank is designed for easy maintenance access.

– Heat Exchanger – Transfers heat from the primary coolant circulating within the immersion tank to a secondary coolant loop used to eject heat from the facility.

– Secondary Cooling System – Could use air, water, or refrigerant-based cooling to reject heat absorbed by the secondary coolant through the heat exchanger to the external environment.

– Monitoring/Control Systems – Sensors track coolant temperatures and flows, while software controls the secondary cooling circulation based on heat loads.

How it Works
With servers and networking gear submerged entirely in coolant within the tank, heat removing occurs across their entire external surfaces simultaneously rather than from limited air-cooled zones as with traditional methods. The warmed dielectric fluid circulates through the immersed IT equipment, extracting over 90% of produced heat. It then passes through a brazed aluminum or plate-type heat exchanger where the accumulated thermal energy is transferred to the secondary coolant loop for rejection. Carefully controlledcoolant flows and minimal temperature differentials ensure no component overheating occurs.

Advantages of Liquid Immersion Cooling

Energy Efficiency
With direct full-surface heat transfer contacting all external server areas at once, liquid immersion achieves cooling rates reportedly 3-5 times faster than air cooling systems alone. The needed airflow and associated fan power are drastically reduced, lowering energy usage an estimated 20-50%. Immersion tanks also require far less physical space than rack servers with air conditioning needs.

Increased Density and Performance
Immersion’s superior thermal transfer allows much higher server density and power usage per rack. Components can operate closer to their maximum intended thermal design points for enhanced computational performance. Customers report up to 10x density growth using immersion versus air cooling.

Improved Reliability
By thermally isolating components from each other and fully submerging them, immersion cooling eliminates hot spots that can cause local overheating issues with cramped air-cooled servers. Temperature uniformity delivers consistent component operation for increased uptime reliability. Fewer noisy fans also reduce mechanical failure risks.

Lower Operating Costs
The combination of energy, space, and hardware savings results in significantly lower total cost of ownership over a data center’s lifetime compared to traditional air cooling infrastructure needing chilled water systems, cooling towers, CRAC/ CRAH units, and the associated capital and operational expenses. Payback periods are typically 2-4 years.

Environmental Sustainability
With reduced energy consumption and no need for water-intensive cooling towers or chillers, liquid immersion delivers substantial carbon emissions reductions. It is estimated to cut data center carbon footprints by up to 80% compared to air cooling systems reliant on electricity-hungry refrigeration equipment. This makes immersion a greener solution aligned with “green data center” initiatives.

Current Applications and Adoption Trends

Hyperscale cloud providers and colocation facilities are among the early adopters implementing immersion cooling at large scales, drawn by its energy efficiency, performance, and density benefits. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and others are deploying it across new data halls in certain regions. Its use is growing in edge colocation facilities supporting 5G networks and IoT applications where footprint and costs matter most.

Hardware vendors like Supermicro are aggressively developing immersion-cooled server product lines optimized for density. Rack-based designs allow easy immersion of entire server cabinets. Several startups also offer immersion cooling solutions targeted at mid-size data centers given its CAPEX advantages over traditional cooling retrofits. Its plug-and-play implementations require minimal redesigns.

It’s predicted that Liquid immersion cooling will capture 5-10% of the overall data center market by 2025 as awareness increases of its eco-friendliness and favorable economics. Wider commercial availability of containers, racks, and other standard infrastructure components optimized for immersion will boost mainstream adoption rates across more applications beyond hyperscale. Those aims make liquid immersion a game-changing innovation for much greener, cost-effective data center operations into the future.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it