Startup Makes Liquid Cooling an Immersive Experience

By Michael Feldman

August 31, 2010

There’s nothing like a blazing hot summer to focus one’s attention on the best ways to keep cool. That goes for datacenter operators as well, who are equally worried about keeping their servers properly chilled. While there is no shortage of innovative cooling solutions being proffered by various vendors, a new liquid immersion cooling solution from startup Green Revolution Cooling could end up being the best of them all.

The stakes for more efficient datacenter cooling are already high. Power consumption for a traditional air-cooled facility eats up a third to more than a half of the energy cost. Making cooling more efficient leaves more money available for computing, which, after all, is the central purpose of the datacenter. Efficient cooling is an especially important consideration in high performance computing, since this class of users gravitate toward faster and denser (and thus hotter) server configurations. If the setup in the center is not optimal, you end up sacrificing a lot of FLOPS for cooling.

With the increasing density of servers, storage, switches and other equipment, facility managers are taking an extra hard look at liquid cooling. Water-cooled servers have been around for decades, and direct-cooled CPUs are now being offered by a handful of vendors. Submerged liquid cooling, too, has been around since the days of the Cray 2, but this technology may be poised for a big comeback.

Servers Take a Bath

Green Revolution Cooling (GRC), a two year-old company based in Austin, Texas, is offering a general-purpose liquid immersion cooling solution that they introduced at SC09 in Portland last November. It was selected as one of the “Disruptive Technologies of the Year” for the 2009 conference, an award they’ve recaptured for SC10.

In a nutshell, the system consists of a 42U rack enclosure tipped on its back and filled with an inert mineral oil mixture in which you immerse the server hardware. A pump is used to circulate the oil to an external heat exchanger, typically located outside the building.

The big advantage is that, unlike water, the oil formulation is not electrically conductive, but has 1,200 times the heat capacity of air. And since the oil is in direct contact with all the components, it only needs to be cooled down to about 104F (40C) to be effective. (CPUs can operate at 75C and hard drives at 45C.) Unless your datacenter happens to be located in Yuma, Arizona, cooling a liquid to 40C is relatively easy to attain with a simple heat exchanger or cooling tower. The solution is advertised to reduce the cooling energy by 90 percent and cut overall power consumption in the datacenter by up to 45 percent. The pitch is that a single 10kW server rack at 8 cents per kWh will save over $5,000 per year on energy costs alone.

According to Green Revolution co-founder Christiaan Best, basically any piece of datacenter equipment — rackmount server, blade, switch — that adheres to the standard 19-inch form factor can be slid into the GRC enclosure. The only equipment modifications required are the removal of the internal fans (you don’t need air cooling any more) and the sealing of any hard drive units, with an epoxy coating, to make them airtight. Typically this procedure takes a few minutes per server.

Because the GRC enclosure is laid on its back, it does takes up more floor space than a regular vertical rack. But since you no longer need hot aisles, chillers, and CRAC units, there is extra square footage to play with. Also, because there is no need to run cold air beneath the equipment anymore, the raised floor is now superfluous. “Essentially you could run it in a barn,” says Best. “All you need is a level floor.”

If you’re looking for performance, the GRC rack allows you to overclock the processors without worrying about melting the server. An NSF-funded study found that cranking up the clock on an Intel E5520 “Nehalem” CPU inside a GRC-cooled server yielded a 54 percent performance boost on Linpack, while keeping the CPU temperature at 76C. The server cost per gigaflop was reduced by about 50 percent.

It’s not just for overclocking. Theoretically, you could throw almost any sort of artificially dense board — multi-GPUs servers, custom blades with 10 CPUs on the motherboard, etc. — into the oil bath and realize the additional cost benefit of shrinking down your hardware footprint.

One possible roadblock to widespread adoption is the lack of warranty support from the OEMs. Warranties don’t typically allow the customer to take the server apart and dunk it into foreign liquids. According to Best, they’ve been talking with all the major OEMs to get their solution qualified under the original warranties, but currently none have committed to supporting the GRC setup. Since many of the big system vendors have their own liquid cooling solutions they’d like sell, they are likely to be less than enthusiastic to qualify a third-party solution.

In any case, Best says they’ve retained third-party support that will honor the original equipment warranties, so customers can be covered for any mishaps. GRC has logged over a quarter million server hours on their in-house test system and has yet to encounter a failure (with the exception of hard drive mechanical failures). Although there is no data to support it, Best is fairly certain that their solution will extend the life of the servers, given the more stable thermal environment, the lack of vibration from internal fans, and the elimination of oxidation on the electrical contacts.

Looking for a Few Brave Customers

Austin-based Midas Networks, a collocation firm, is the company’s first customer. Midas has purchased four of the GRC racks, and the systems are scheduled to be up and running later this year. Best says they also have a number of other customers in the pipeline, including some with HPC facilities, but no checks are in the bank just yet.

With the exception of Green Revolution itself, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has acquired the most experience with the technology. TACC installed a pre-production GRC unit back in April and has been putting the system through its paces for the past five months.

Even in oil-rich Texas, energy is not cheap, so power savings has become a big priority at TACC. “We’re really, really chill-water limited where we are now,” says Dan Stanzione, TACC’s deputy director. According to him, they don’t have the ability to add any more chilled water capacity, but do have plans to expand computing capability over the next several years.

The TACC experiment started with immersing some older 1U servers in the GRC enclosure, and since then they’ve added other equipment including InfiniBand switches, GPU-powered servers, and blades. According to Stanzione, all the hardware has performed flawlessly, with no failures to date. They’ve even overclocked some of the server CPUs by 30 to 40 percent, without incident.

At present they have about 10kW of equipment in the rack, and are using just 250 watts to power the GRC solution. That’s more than a 90 percent reduction when compared to the 3,000 to 4,000 watts they would have consumed with a conventional air-cooled system. Stanzione estimates the total power savings for the whole system (equipment plus cooling) was reduced by 25 to 30 percent. “The overall power consumption has been fantastic,” he says.

The TACC crew is going to continue collecting data with the GRC system for the rest of the year. If everything checks out, Stanzione would like to start putting some production units into the upcoming datacenter buildout. They’re already thinking about loading 30 to 40 kW of compute equipment into a single rack, and GRC cooling would make that level of density quite practical. Further into the future, Stanzione is thinking about the cost savings they could accrue by immersing all 140 racks of the center’s equipment. “I think this has a tremendous amount of potential,” he says.

Barring some unforseen technological breakthrough, datacenter computing is only going to get denser and hotter in the years ahead. And since the cooling capacity of air isn’t going to change, the move to liquid-cooled systems appears all but inevitable. “You may not buy liquid cooling from us,” concludes Best, “but you will buy it from someone.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

At SC18: AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell EMC’s HPC Chief on Strategy and Emerging Processor Diversity

November 16, 2018

Last January Thierry Pellegrino, a long-time Dell/Dell EMC veteran, became vice president of HPC. His tenure comes at a time when the very definition of HPC is blurring with AI writ large (data analytics, machine learnin Read more…

By John Russell

IBM’s AI-HPC Combine for ‘Intelligent Simulation’: Eliminating the Unnecessary 

November 16, 2018

A powerhouse concept in attaining new knowledge is the notion of the “emergent property,” the combination of formerly stovepiped scientific disciplines and exploratory methods to form cross-disciplinary intelligence Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

AI Can Be Scary. But Choosing the Wrong Partners Can Be Mortifying!

As you continue to dive deeper into AI, you will discover it is more than just deep learning. AI is an extremely complex set of machine learning, deep learning, reinforcement, and analytics algorithms with varying compute, storage, memory, and communications needs. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

From Deep Blue to Summit – 30 Years of Supercomputing Innovation

This week, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the SC conference, we are highlighting some of the most significant IBM contributions to supercomputing over the past 30 years. Read more…

How the United States Invests in Supercomputing

November 14, 2018

The CORAL supercomputers Summit and Sierra are now the world's fastest computers and are already contributing to science with early applications. Ahead of SC18, Maciej Chojnowski with ICM at the University of Warsaw discussed the details of the CORAL project with Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov from the U.S. Department of Energy. Read more…

By Maciej Chojnowski

At SC18: AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell EMC’s HPC Chief on Strategy and Emerging Processor Diversity

November 16, 2018

Last January Thierry Pellegrino, a long-time Dell/Dell EMC veteran, became vice president of HPC. His tenure comes at a time when the very definition of HPC is Read more…

By John Russell

IBM’s AI-HPC Combine for ‘Intelligent Simulation’: Eliminating the Unnecessary 

November 16, 2018

A powerhouse concept in attaining new knowledge is the notion of the “emergent property,” the combination of formerly stovepiped scientific disciplines and Read more…

By Doug Black

How the United States Invests in Supercomputing

November 14, 2018

The CORAL supercomputers Summit and Sierra are now the world's fastest computers and are already contributing to science with early applications. Ahead of SC18, Maciej Chojnowski with ICM at the University of Warsaw discussed the details of the CORAL project with Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov from the U.S. Department of Energy. Read more…

By Maciej Chojnowski

At SC18: Humanitarianism Amid Boom Times for HPC

November 14, 2018

At SC18 in Dallas, the feeling on the ground is one of forward-looking buoyancy. Like boom times that cycle through the Texas oil fields, the HPC industry is en Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

New Panasas High Performance Storage Straddles Commercial-Traditional HPC

November 13, 2018

High performance storage vendor Panasas has launched a new version of its ActiveStor product line this morning featuring what the company said is the industry’s first plug-and-play, portable parallel file system that delivers up to 75 Gb/s per rack on industry standard hardware combined with “enterprise-grade reliability and manageability.” Read more…

By Doug Black

SC18 Student Cluster Competition – Revealing the Field

November 13, 2018

It’s November again and we’re almost ready for the kick-off of one of the greatest computer sports events in the world – the SC Student Cluster Competitio Read more…

By Dan Olds

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TACC Wins Next NSF-funded Major Supercomputer

July 30, 2018

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has won the next NSF-funded big supercomputer beating out rivals including the National Center for Supercomputing Ap Read more…

By John Russell

IBM at Hot Chips: What’s Next for Power

August 23, 2018

With processor, memory and networking technologies all racing to fill in for an ailing Moore’s law, the era of the heterogeneous datacenter is well underway, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Requiem for a Phi: Knights Landing Discontinued

July 25, 2018

On Monday, Intel made public its end of life strategy for the Knights Landing "KNL" Phi product set. The announcement makes official what has already been wide Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

CERN Project Sees Orders-of-Magnitude Speedup with AI Approach

August 14, 2018

An award-winning effort at CERN has demonstrated potential to significantly change how the physics based modeling and simulation communities view machine learni Read more…

By Rob Farber

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

At SC18: AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TACC’s ‘Frontera’ Supercomputer Expands Horizon for Extreme-Scale Science

August 29, 2018

The National Science Foundation and the Texas Advanced Computing Center announced today that a new system, called Frontera, will overtake Stampede 2 as the fast Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE No. 1, IBM Surges, in ‘Bucking Bronco’ High Performance Server Market

September 27, 2018

Riding healthy U.S. and global economies, strong demand for AI-capable hardware and other tailwind trends, the high performance computing server market jumped 28 percent in the second quarter 2018 to $3.7 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to industry analyst firm Hyperion Research. Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel Announces Cooper Lake, Advances AI Strategy

August 9, 2018

Intel's chief datacenter exec Navin Shenoy kicked off the company's Data-Centric Innovation Summit Wednesday, the day-long program devoted to Intel's datacenter Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Germany Celebrates Launch of Two Fastest Supercomputers

September 26, 2018

The new high-performance computer SuperMUC-NG at the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Garching is the fastest computer in Germany and one of the fastest i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Houston to Field Massive, ‘Geophysically Configured’ Cloud Supercomputer

October 11, 2018

Based on some news stories out today, one might get the impression that the next system to crack number one on the Top500 would be an industrial oil and gas mon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This