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!

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art of “The Grand Hotel Of The West,” contrasted nicely with Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Google Cloud Makes Good on Promise to Add Nvidia P100 GPUs

September 21, 2017

Google has taken down the notice on its cloud platform website that says Nvidia Tesla P100s are “coming soon.” That's because the search giant has announced the beta launch of the high-end P100 Nvidia Tesla GPUs on t Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Wins $48M Supercomputer Contract from KISTI

September 21, 2017

It was a good day for Cray which won a $48 million contract from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) for a 128-rack CS500 cluster supercomputer. The new system, equipped with Intel Xeon Scal Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

Adolfy Hoisie to Lead Brookhaven’s Computing for National Security Effort

September 21, 2017

Brookhaven National Laboratory announced today that Adolfy Hoisie will chair its newly formed Computing for National Security department, which is part of Brookhaven’s new Computational Science Initiative (CSI). Read more…

By John Russell

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art o Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Stanford University and UberCloud Achieve Breakthrough in Living Heart Simulations

September 21, 2017

Cardiac arrhythmia can be an undesirable and potentially lethal side effect of drugs. During this condition, the electrical activity of the heart turns chaotic, Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud, and Francisco Sahli, Stanford University

PNNL’s Center for Advanced Tech Evaluation Seeks Wider HPC Community Ties

September 21, 2017

Two years ago the Department of Energy established the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). CENAT Read more…

By John Russell

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National Laboratory. Kothe is a 32-year veteran of DOE’s National Laboratory System. Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conference in Barcelona. In conjunction with her presentation, Yelick agreed to a short Q&A discussion with HPCwire. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This