Iceotope: A New Take on Liquid Cooling

Two UK companies are introducing a new cooling product that immerses servers in liquid coolant, an approach they claim can dramatically reduce data center energy costs – if IT managers can get comfortable with the idea of liquids in their data center.

Boston Limited and Iceotope are unveiling the new solution today at the SC09 supercomputing conference in Portland, Oregon. “Each server motherboard is completely immersed in an individually sealed bath of an inert liquid coolant which passively transfers heat away from the sensitive electronics to a tightly integrated heat exchanger formed by the wall of the bath where water is continuously re-circulated and cooled,” the companies said in a press release. “Compared to traditional air cooling systems, the two liquids are thousands of times more effective in capturing and transferring heat, thereby requiring much less energy to run the overall system as the water can be allowed to run warmer whilst still providing adequate cooling.”

A water cooling loop is also integrated into the server, which comes in a sealed chassis that installs vertically into a cabinet. Here’s a video that illustrates the concept:

Using an “end to end liquid” system to remove heat from the server to the exterior of the data center is far more efficient than air cooling, Iceotope says, and allows the entire liquid cooling system to operate at a much higher temperature, allowing more extensive use of free cooling (using cool, fresh air in data center cooling) and reduced need for energy-hungry chillers.

“We have been developing this technology in stealth mode for the last 18 months with input from a number of interested end-users and partners,” said Dan Chester, CEO of Iceotope. “We are delighted to now be able to demonstrate the outcome of this first collaboration with Boston Limited.”

It’s not the first time an immersive liquid cooling system has been showcased at the event. At SC07, Angstrom Microsystems sank a working computer and monitor into a fish tank filled with the solution used in its LiquiBlade products. Other solutions that bring liquids inside the chassis include SprayCool , IBM’s Aquasar water-cooling system for supercomputers, and Clustered Systems, which uses a cold plate containing a tubing system filled with coolant.

Even before its debut, Iceotope has made a favorable impression on one industry veteran. Steve O’Donnell at The Hot Aisle writes that the Icerotope system “operates at an amazing PUE of just over 1 and can operate almost everywhere on the planet without refrigeration. It is silent, reliable and can house the very highest performance systems with the highest power parts at extreme density,” O’Donnell adds.

The server being demonstarted at SC09 is based on Supermicro’s X8DTT-IBQF motherboard featuring Dual Intel 5500 series Xeon Quad/ Dual-Core processors based on the Nehalem chipset with advanced features such as IPMI 2.0 and an integrated Mellanox ConnectX QDR Infiniband 40Gbps Controller with QSFP connector on-board. Production systems will be available to purchase by mid 2010 with an early access program commencing in the first quarter of 2010.

Data center mangers remain divided on the subject of liquid cooling. Many feel increasing heat loads and power densities make air cooling impractical, particularly for wokloads exceeding 20 kilowatts per cabinet. But other data center operators remain wary of introducing liquids into their server rooms, citing the potential for equipment damage. It will be interesting to see whether the Iceotope concept influences this ongoing discussion.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. It is interesting how the world keeps "re-inventing" old ideas. This was used by Cray -- and others -- back in the 80s and 90s for supercomputers. Oddly, many of those ran slower than what we now call a desktop.

  2. The credit goes to the one who successfully diffuses the invention. Innovation is not innovation without diffusion (often through commercialisation). Innovation without impact is just invention, which is nice for people who like technology but will not generate any wealth for anyone by itself. I've been working on a similar project but it got shelved (too many projects). We did test with immersing PC's in mineral oils. Works very well, but 3M's fluorinert is probably an even better candidate. I'm surprised that the PUE is over 1 at all. This cooling system could even have a negative net energy consumption (<1).