If You Can’t Handle the Heat, Stay out of the Data Center

Jul 10, 2024 10:20 AM ET
cooling system

In a recent article for Mission Critical magazine, Brandon Marshall, Global Marketing Manager, Immersion Cooling at The Chemours Company, shared the context behind today's need for improved data center cooling solutions. Below is an excerpt from the article and you can read the full article, originally published by Mission Critical, here.

Air-cooled systems can no longer 'beat the heat' generated by IT equipment 

By Brandon Marshall, Global Marketing Manager, Immersion Cooling at The Chemours Company

Based on publicly available product road maps from major chip manufacturers, by 2026, air-cooled systems will no longer be able to meet the cooling needs of most next-generation, high-performance computing chips. In other words, in less than two years, the most widely used method in the more than 5,300 data centers in the U.S. today will fall short in its ability to cool the components that support exponential growth in the world’s data processing and storage applications.

Thankfully, scientists and engineers anticipated the challenges data centers will soon be facing and innovated technology solutions with the capacity to meet elevated cooling requirements. Beyond simply allowing for effective cooling of next-generation computing chips, this technology comes with a host of other benefits, ranging from greater energy efficiency to a smaller physical footprint. However, before diving into the details about this new technology — known as two-phase immersion cooling (2-PIC) — it’s important to understand the background behind today’s need for improved cooling solutions.

Criticality of better cooling

High-powered computing and faster-than-ever processing speeds are no longer considered a future need. These capabilities are now established as critical to the operation of businesses, governments, organizations, and other entities that support the way today’s communities function, survive, and thrive. Whether it’s health and wellness, financial institutions, economic growth, safety and protection, entertainment, education, or any other service supporting our way of life, successfully providing that service fully depends on the ability to obtain, store, and process data quickly and reliably. Moreover, just because this need is established doesn’t make it static. According to a U.S. Market report from Newmark, “The U.S. data center footprint will absorb 35 gigawatts by 2030,” which is more than twice the data center power consumption of 2022.

When most people hear “data centers,” their thoughts first go to big players, like Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Amazon, but equally important — and equally dependent on high-performance, high-speed computing — are the enterprise data center operators. These operators are our governments and military, financial institutions, health care systems, educational institutions, and more. They provide the services we draw on every day, with the expectation they will keep our information secure and readily available. In addition, when considering what is “heating up” data centers, we must include an ever-escalating appetite for everything from AI to streaming.

All of this has resulted in the development of next-generation chips — graphic processing units (GPU) and central processing units (CPU) — that are emerging to meet demands. Simply stated, to do what they need to do, these chips generate more heat than their predecessors and, as mentioned above, the traditional air-cooled systems in wide use today will not be able to “beat that heat.” Consequently, the world needs the proverbial better mousetrap — which is where liquid cooling comes in.

The emergence of liquid cooling

Ironically, 2-PIC — emerging as the technological frontrunner to provide superior solutions for the cooling needs of modern-day data centers — has roots dating back to the 1940s, when liquids were used to cool high-voltage transformers. Approximately 20 years later, IBM developed a system of direct liquid cooling, which remained popular until the 1980s, when new chip technology required less wattage for the processing needs. In this environment, air-cooling systems proved more effective and efficient. However, because the needs of the 2020s are much different than they were 40 years ago, the industry has circled back to liquid cooling as a solution to provide the required cooling capacity and address the numerous shortcomings — including high energy and water consumption — of air-cooling systems.

Offering the ability to remove heat more effectively than air cooling, liquid cooling uses a liquid, such as water or a dielectric fluid, to cool the heat-generating components of servers by coming in contact with these components, either directly or indirectly through a heat exchanger. One type of liquid cooling is single-phase, which uses a pump to circulate the liquid through a closed-loop system. The other type, two-phase liquid cooling, uses a phase change material, such as a refrigerant, which evaporates and condenses as it absorbs and releases heat…

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