Another Proof Point for Oil-Cooled Servers

By Robert Gelber

September 5, 2012

It’s no secret that datacenters consume massive amounts of energy. Along with supporting hundreds or thousands of servers, these facilities also need to provide electricity for lighting, air conditioning and other essential services. This leads to unique designs and practices all aimed at increasing power efficiency. Last week, GigaOm reported on a year-long test conducted by Intel, where servers were cooled with non-conductive mineral oil.

The chipmaker decided to test out Green Revolution Computing’s CarnotJet system, a setup that looks like a high-tech bath for servers. As the oil absorbs heat from the hardware components, it gets cycled through a radiator to dissipate the heat. The cooled liquid is then returned to the servers.

By submerging server components in the GreenDEF coolant, the company claims their system can reduce energy consumption by 90 to 95 percent compared to air-cooled solutions. Since the servers no longer require fans in this configuration, additional power is saved.

Datacenter efficiency is determined by power usage effectiveness (PUE). This rating can be obtained by calculating total facility power divided by IT equipment power. The goal is to get a PUE as close to 1.00 as possible.

Intel mentioned that the CarnoJet servers received a PUE between 1.02 and 1.03.  By comparison, standard air-cooled racks operate at roughly 1.6 PUE. This isn’t to say that all air-cooled datacenters are unable to receive high efficiency ratings. For example, Facebook’s datacenter in Prineville, Oregon received a 1.07 PUE rating.

As with any new technology, this one has a unique downside. If a component should fail or a user decides to upgrade their servers, it can be a rather messy endeavor to have to deal with the oil-soaked hardware. Wired reported that one tech involved in the test always had a spare change of clothes handy just in case.

Intel isn’t the only company taking the oil-based racks for a spin. The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) was Green Revolution’s first customer.  The center used a CarnoJet system to cool what used to be the ninth-fastest system on the TOP500 list. Since then, CGGVeritas, KTH in Stockholm and  Tokyo Tech in Japan have all decided to run with the company’s unique cooling technology. Supermicro is getting ready to ship oil-cooled servers to interested customers.

 

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