Top 6 Innovations in Data Center Cooling Technology
Cooling systems are one of the most important components of a data center. They often consume about half of all the data center’s total energy and are necessary to maintain a safe operating environment.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) thermal guidelines recommend that the ideal temperature for server inlets is between 64.4° F and 80.6° F with a relative humidity between 40% and 60%. If the ideal temperature is not achieved, the IT equipment will likely malfunction, leading to expensive damages and an increase in downtime.
While traditional data center cooling systems typically involved CRAC/CRAH units, there have been numerous innovations in recent years that have made data center cooling more efficient and less expensive.
Here are some of the top innovations in modern data center cooling technology:
1. Direct-to-chip cooling
Liquid cooling is an innovation that has significantly transformed data center cooling and is one of the most popular cooling techniques used today. There are many different liquid cooling systems, with each new innovation providing greater efficiency. Direct-to-chip cooling is a more recent liquid cooling technique where a liquid coolant is delivered to a chip via tubes. The coolant absorbs the heat from the chip and removes it, cooling processors directly. Direct-to-chip cooling is considered one of the most effective and efficient methods for data center heat removal.
There are many benefits associated with direct-to-chip cooling, the first being reduced energy consumption as liquid cooling decreases the amount of airflow needed by up to 90%. Also, the carrying capacity for liquid cooling can be up to 3,500 times greater than traditional air cooling. Another benefit is increased processing capacity as equipment can support greater chip densities due to the more precisely targeted cooling. Additionally, the more effective removal of heat requires less space for equipment. Finally, since cooling is kept inside the enclosures, there is no need for in-row cooling units. This corresponds with a lower likelihood of equipment overheating which is a major cause of data center downtime.
2. Two-phase immersion cooling
Liquid cooling has transformed data center cooling systems and has become one of the most popular cooling techniques today. There are many different types of liquid cooling and more innovations are being developed to enhance this relatively new technology. Two-phase liquid immersion cooling involves the submerging of electronic components into a bath of dielectric heat transfer liquid. With a boiling point of 50° C, this fluid is a much better heat conductor than air, water, or oil. The vapor formed from the interaction between the liquid and the heat generating components passively facilitates the heat transfer. In 2021, Microsoft tested a two-phase immersion technique, making it the first cloud provider running two-phase immersion cooling in a production environment. The company is experimenting with deploying data center “pods” in the ocean to move one-step closer towards self-sustaining data center units powered by renewable energy with a quick deployment time.
There are numerous benefits associated with two-phase immersion cooling, the first being higher efficiency and energy savings. This cooling technology has a >90% efficiency advantage in data centers compared to that of air cooling. Additionally, there is improved reliability with this technology as components are not subject to temperature variations. Therefore, there is reduced failure potential as no cooling fans are required, which would typically cause degradation from vibration. There is also a higher computing density with two-phase immersion cooling as there is no longer a need for heat sinks and cooling fans, which take up a relatively large amount of space. Equipment can then be placed closer together, increasing computing power by up to 10 times within the same space.
3. Geothermal cooling
Geothermal cooling is a technology that has been around for quite some time, but not many data centers have taken advantage of its low cost and environmentally friendly benefits. This cooling system resembles that of an air-conditioner or air-source heat pump as heat is absorbed from the air inside the data center and moved to another area. However, geothermal heat pumps use the ground as its heat sink rather than releasing the air outside like a traditional air conditioner. The system is implemented using a closed-loop piping system filled with water and/or coolant that runs through vertical underground wells filled with a heat-transferring fill. Some components of the system include an indoor handling unit and a system of buried pipes that connect to an underground water source. These components are activated when water is pumped up, ran past a heat exchanger, and then returned to the same water source through injection pipes.
Geothermal cooling allows for lower operating costs as the heat pump systems do not burn fuel and delivers electricity utilization rates of up to 5:1. The heat pumps are reported to use 25% to 50% less electricity than conventional heating or cooling systems. This also makes it more environmentally friendly as the pumps do not consume any fossil fuels and they last longer than traditional HVAC equipment. Additionally, geothermal cooling saves money in the long term as it has very low operating costs compared to other systems that involve monthly shipments of fuel oil and propane. There are also lower costs associated with maintenance as it is conducted less frequently than it is for conventional HVAC systems.
4. Microchannel liquid cooling
Microchannel liquid cooling is an extension of direct-to-chip liquid cooling with the addition of cold plates that directly target CPUs, GPUs, and memory modules. Operating on a heat-spreading premise, the sealed metal plates spread heat that is generated in a device into small internal fluid channels. This technique provides cooling for a large surface area, and the small fluid channels facilitate an interaction between the flowing coolant and the heated surface.
This type of cooling is increasingly beneficial for data centers as it offers improved performance by increasing air-side heat transfer between the fins in the heat exchanger and the ambient air. It is reported to provide 20% to 40% greater overall heat transfer performancev along with a drastic reduction in airside pressure drops. The heat exchangers are also of 10% to 30% smaller in size and up to 60% less weight, allowing for a smaller footprint in the data center. This cooling method also reduces costs as there are less refrigerant and material costs.
5. Microconvective liquid cooling
Microconvective liquid cooling uses numerous small fluid jets within compact cooling modules, which has transformed cooling performance at the chip level. This technology was created to improve the performance of applications with the densest compute profiles. There is a high effectiveness turbulent flow where the heat is generated as microconvective cooling facilitates perpendicular flow onto the device. This increases the heat transfer coefficient for heat removal and therefore eliminates the use of thermal interface materials.
Created by JetCool, microconvective liquid cooling is revolutionary as it can cool down some of the most powerful processors. The technology is reported to save data centers up to 8% in energy costs and up to 90% in water costs annually. It was developed in response to the significant amount of energy used by data centers as they use 3% of the planet’s total energy each year. Of that 3%, 40% of the energy is consumed by cooling infrastructure to ensure the efficiency of processors and other equipment. Although a relatively new technology, microconvective liquid cooling is expected to facilitate big changes to the way data centers utilize energy.
6. Calibrated vector cooling (CVC)
Calibrated vectored cooling (CVC) was designed by IBM in 2005 to be used with its blade server series and other products that were in close proximity to its computing equipment. CVC involves the passing of refrigerated air into the parts of high-density systems that have the highest temperatures. This enables lower device temperatures and limits the required number of internal cooling fans needed to cool equipment. CVC has greatly improved the efficiency of cooling technology as it improves and optimizes the flow of cool air in computers and server systems. As a result, power is better allocated throughout the data center as only equipment that needs to be cooled is cooled as opposed to cooling all equipment regardless of its temperature.
Bringing It All Together
With energy-hungry technologies like 5G mobile networks, big data, and artificial intelligence still just emerging, data center demand expected to continue growing at a rapid rate.
To keep up with the massive volume and variety of data, data centers will grow larger, more complex, and require more energy. As such, innovative cooling systems are constantly being developed to increase efficiency and improve data center sustainability.
Modern data center professionals are not only leveraging innovative cooling technologies, but also increasingly deploying Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software to get to carbon neutral faster and easier.
With second-generation DCIM software, you can optimize data center cooling and increase efficiency by:
- Measuring energy consumption at every connection point in your power path so you have the data you need to make more intelligent data center energy management decisions.
- Monitoring all the environment sensors in your data center sites to understand the current conditions and know where your opportunities to improve efficiency are.
- Collecting, storing, trending, and reporting on power, environment, energy, and cost data in real-time to understand the impact of energy initiatives on data center KPIs such as PUE.
- Leveraging automation capabilities, zero-configuration charts and reports, and visual analytics to intelligently increase energy efficiency
Knowing what’s going on in your data center from anywhere so you can be assured that your efficiency initiatives are not disrupting service or impacting customers.
Want to see how Sunbird’s world-leading DCIM software can help you optimize data center cooling and increase efficiency? Get your free test drive today!