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Iceotope plans to revolutionise the traditional data centre

While transferring and re-using heat to power other devices
Fri Jun 21 2013, 11:00

COOL SERVER MAKER Iceotope demonstrated its fully immersed liquid cooled server system to The INQUIRER when we recently visited the University of Leeds where it was first deployed.

Iceotope impressed us with its unique technology, which claims to use 20 percent less power than traditional server systems. Its business development director Richard Barrington talked us through the firm's plans for revolutionising the traditional data centre.

The system in use at Leeds Uni

Submerged in a non-conductive liquid, so as far as the electronics inside are concerned, the liquid acts like air meaning they can be submerged in it without electrocuting anyone that comes into contact with it. There is no need for fans or moving parts inside the server, as the liquid naturally expands as it takes heat away from the electronics.

"What we're actually doing here is science, not IT," Barrington said. "We're using thermo fluid dynamics, we're using mechanical engineering, advanced fluids, and very bright people to put that all together for this solution."

The rack

Iceotope's submerged server idea came from the principle that a traditional data centre costs as much in power to run it over its lifetime as the hardware itself.

"The research project asked the question, what's the most efficient way of cooling?" Barrington said. "Well, the most efficient way is water, but you can't mix water and electronics because it will conduct electricity and you'd fry everyone within 100 miles. So how do you do it differently?"

Iceotope's server design was therefore based on finding a liquid into which it could submerge the electronics so it uses convection to remove heat from the electronics. It tried and tested 63 different liquids before arriving at the one it settled on, which was 3M's Novec.

The Novec liquid pouring out

"We came up with the idea of encapsulating each individual server so they can be hot swappable," Barrington said. "We wanted to build something that could fit into a standard cabinet because that's what people expect, so when you stack all that together then there was only one real outcome, which is our [submerged server]."

In what would normally be quite an inefficient, fanned and noisy configuration, Iceotope's liquid-cooled server system accepts power at the top, which runs into liquid-cooled power supplies. If you feel inside the rack, it is warm because it is pulling the heat away from the electronics.

The server system claims to be up to 90 percent efficient at capturing heat from the submerged servers, which can then be transferred and reused to heat other devices, such as domestic radiators, at temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius, thus doubling power savings.

The heat exchange

"Convection moves the heat from the electronics to the servers' cold plate, then a second circuit harvests all of that heat to a heat exchanger and the heat exchangers then transfer the heat to an external state and in this case, it's heating some domestic radiators," Barrington explained.

"If this is a 10KW cabinet, we'll capture 9KW in heat. So there's 1KW lost and we can improve on that as we're not insulating the doors yet, but that's still 75 percent more efficient than air. The heat is coming out in a commercially viable product, hot water that can be re-used."

Icetope claims it can put up to 20KW of computing resources into a traditional sized data centre rack that would normally contain only 4KW to 5KW of computing reasources.

"The decision was to build something that would take industry standard technology such as Supermicro motherboards and standard two-socket systems, and build the infrastructure around it," Barrington said.

The firm also claims it can fit more resource in the same physical space because its server is completely silent.

Size is half of a traditional server

"With no worry for humidity or air quality I can put it next to a desk, it doesn't actually need a data centre," Barrington explained. "And there's no worry about air quality in the surround area [that] the Iceoptope's rack is in. Because it doesn't breathe air you can put it in a really hostile environment and it doesn't care."

The server can't just be used in the colder times of the year. Rather bizarrely, it can also be used to create refrigerated air through 'absorption chilling', that is, taking hot water to generate chilled air, and you can heat your buildings in winter all from the same water source.

The system in Leeds Uni

Iceotope is hoping to show off its server project in a more upscale setting soon, but at the moment it is focusing on generating interest in its systems.

"It is up to exciting people and getting their imaginations fired up for this because, for example, we are now seeing data centres that are 14 to 18 Megawatts as a regular occurrence these days, which is about £14m a year in power on average," Barrington said.

"So if I can take 10 Megawatts off that as heat and do something productive with it, you start to get a scale of what you can do with this."

"The pre-production system now in use at Leeds University is really a demonstrator of what is possible," Barrington added.

Iceotope is experimenting to increase the density in its submergeable server as well as the possibility of liquid cooling switches and storage. µ


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