Intel and Green Revolution Cooling Corporation (GRC) have collaborated on a joint white paper on liquid immersion cooling. The two parties present what it means for the new technology to drive sustainability, claiming it reduces the amount of power needed to cool data centers and cuts operating costs. The companies announced a multi-year project in January to help the data center industry reduce the environmental impact of digital infrastructure. GRC also received a $28 million investment from South Korean company SK Lubricants in March.
GRC is a co-author of the white paper, specializing in immersion cooling technology, and Intel also announced in May that it is establishing its own lab to characterize, test, and demonstrate immersion cooling technology.
At the heart of the argument is the fact that data centers use about 1.5%-2% of the world’s total electricity supply. If left unchecked, this could expand to 13 percent over the next decade. This draws on the work of David Mytton, a former researcher on the Uptime Institute’s sustainability team.
It is estimated that up to 40% of power consumption is used to cool all data center infrastructure, and with the increasing power density of processors, servers are now pushing the limits of what air cooling systems can handle. The white paper warns that some of Intel and AMD’s upcoming CPUs will reach thresholds that air cooling cannot meet.
According to Intel and GRC’s findings, many data center operators are aware of this, and as many as three-quarters are now considering the importance of sustainability as a competitive differentiator. However, data centers have hit a wall when it comes to power usage efficiency (PUE), which has hovered around 1.6 on average for nearly a decade.
Addressing the 40% of the power consumed by cooling systems is a start, and the white paper adds that eliminating internal server fans could reduce energy consumption by 10-15%. Hot parts inside the chassis must still be cooled in some way, but liquid cooling technology has also evolved to be more mature today, where the liquid coolant is circulated through heatsinks attached to components such as CPUs, and Wave, a supplier of servers to the hyperscale market, is now offering such systems as an option across its portfolio.
But technology can always go further, however, and Intel and GRC argue that full immersion liquid cooling allows more servers to be installed in a specific space, with less power load as a result, which reduces the amount of equipment such as switchgear, cables and backup generators, which means lower capital expenditures and operating costs.
But Moises Levy, Omdia’s senior principal analyst for data center physical infrastructure, questioned this week that liquid cooling has some technical pitfalls to be aware of, including the operational costs and procedures required to use the technology.
“People just know about liquid cooling, but a lot of times they don’t know that they need a filtration system and they need supporting software development to track the quality of the dielectric fluid,” he said.” This is another type of monitoring that requires a higher level of skilled labor.”
As industries such as the cloud and telecom markets move to liquid cooling solutions, the company is designing silicon products with immersion cooling in mind, which means rethinking elements such as heat sinks, Intel said.