Intel Embraces Submerging Servers in Oil

Merits of Mineral Oil

Mineral oil has been used in immersion cooling because it is not hazardous and transfers heat almost as well as water, but doesn’t conduct an electric charge. Some mineral oil-style coolants can be messy to maintain. Patterson said Intel’s technicians always had an extra set of clothes handy to account for coolant spills. Green Revolution says its coolant can be drained for enclosure-level maintenance, and individual servers can be removed for work.

“I think it will catch on,” said Patterson. “It’s going to be a slow progression, but will start in high-performance computing and the need to look at performance upside. Those (HPC) procurements are large enough that this might make sense. Those guys are probably a little bit more sophisticated in their willingness to do something different.”

Green Revolution says its GreenDEF coolant can support heat loads of up to 100 kilowatts per 42U rack, far beyond current average heat loads of 4 to 8 watts a rack and high-density loads of 12 to 30 kilowatts per rack. The company says the system is designed to comply with fire codes and the Clean Water Act, and integrates with standard power distribution units (PDUs) and network switches.

Gains for Green Revolution

Patterson emphasized that Intel doesn’t recommend a particular vendor. “We are evaluating all types of oil immersion to understand the entire ecosystem,” said Patterson. Other players in the immersion cooling field include Iceotope and LiquidCool (formerly Hardcore Computer).

But there’s no question that the cooperation with Intel is an important validation for Green Revolution’s technology, which we’ve been tracking since the company’s launch in 2009. The technology is being used by an Austin colocation provider,  as well as in HPC installations hwere it has demonstrated its ability to work with GPU acceleration and designs that recycle server waste heat.

This week Green Revolution announced that server maker Super Micro Computer is providing full warranty coverage for servers installed in the CarnotJet submersion system, which the company called a “momentous step forward” for its technology.  The warranty will cover motherboards, backplanes, add-on cards, power supplies, and processors.

More broadly, submersion cooling may benefit from Intel’s affirmation that submersion doesn’t have any impact on hardware reliability. “When we pulled the servers out, we took them to our failure analysis lab,” Patterson said. “They could find nothing at all to suggest that this is a bad idea.”

In 2008, Intel published research showing that in many climates servers perform well when cooled with fresh air from outside the data center. At the time, this design approach – known as air-side economization or “free cooling” was used by a small percentage of data centers. With support from Intel and other large data center builders, fresh air cooling has since become a common feature in new data center construction in recent years.

A four-rack installation of the Green Revolution liquid coolings solution, which submerges servers in a coolant similar to mineral oil. (Photo: Green Revolution)

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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. Jeff

    Sure, the PUE (or any other efficiency metric) will score these servers extremely well, but that's not the total cost so it's almost necessary to build a comparable metric for alternative cooling (since cooling costs are often the largest component of PUE). Looking at the initial investment in liquid-ready components, amortized over the use of the hardware (since the refresh rate is probably 2-4 years like any other compute hardware) plus the additional maintenance costs associated with liquid (plugging leaks, adding time to hardware work, etc) would create a clearer picture of what the real cost is compared to traditional cooling.

  2. The other question is, what happens if you spring a leak...

  3. Nicholas

    While there are things that aren't being considered with the costs, you're also avoiding the fact that you can potentially have a much greater density within a data center. You can also likely get greater performance for longer while overclocking due to increased dissipation. The rigs I've seen successfully built are also known for their longevity. It would be interesting to see if they're the exception or not.

  4. Scott

    No mention of how Cray did something very similiar nearly 30 years ago?

  5. UX-admin

    A processor dies in one of these immersion cooled systems. How would one replace it? How would one replace memory? Disks? Any other field replaceable units?

  6. Frank

    How long after one removes the motherboard from the oil can one start working on it, to replacing RAM or CPU? How long before it stops dripping?

  7. Tony

    this gives a new meaning to the word Grease Monkey. as far as how long would one have to wait and replace a component on the mother board, how long does it take to open a vacuum bag PDQ. concerning this repackaged technology, I think it's a great idea, why waste energy cooling and entire room when the heat sorce can be cooled, in a typical server rack only 50 to 70% of the rack is producing heat, mean while 100% of cooling is being produced and then wasted. I could go on, but know reason to encourage BTU production.

  8. mike smith

    What happens with the hard drive breather hole? Will it 'ingest' oil instead of air? Drop lands on disk, head hits drop, fun ensues.

  9. Wilfred Brimblecombe

    Does oil burn?

  10. ChrisB

    "What happens with the hard drive breather hole?" Spinning rust goes in the storage array.

  11. Mark B

    Copycats :) :) , I did that in 2004 and have the picture to proof it too. My reason, noise of all the fans from overclocking. Run flawless for 2 years 24/7. Then the laptops became fast enough like a regular PC and no noise. That's when I disassembled my fish-tank, yes, fish-tank. Actually, I think I had it earlier but that's when I took the pictures before disassembling. Somewhere is a forum where I showed it all at the time and it was a hot-topic. I used mineral oil from the drugstore. Of course I bought a 55 Gallon drum of the stuff and run it into my house to the aquarium and then back outside again into the drum via Fish-tank pump. Hard-Drive I made a copper enclosure, sticking out just on top of the aquarium and box was cooled by the oil too. Anything else was submerged, including power supply.

  12. Dr. Ffreeze

    Mark B. Copycat! =) Sorry, I couldn't resist. I did that back in 1999 with 8 gal mineral oil and a 5,000 BTU window AC unit. I got my PC down to -40C. Good job and cool to see Intel working on this. Dr. Ffreeze

  13. Puget Systems has had DIY instructions for home setup in mineral oil baths since 2007. Enjoy....youtubes floating around as well. PS...a little mineral oil spreads a long way (ie., it's messy). Google: mineral-oil puget-systems

  14. Mark B.

    WOW Dr. FFreeze, I could not remember your online-name, but I remember very well that you where working in a drugstore and got the oil from there and I bought a 55 gallon drum to do the same thing. You had then a website posting pics, I was setting up the drum. :) I taught something is not right with the date of my pictures and it was much earlier then 2004 but could not find an earlier date. At the time we either e-mailed or where posting somewhere in a forum about the project. Credit to you, because I know you finished your setup about a month earlier then I did. :) Great that you posted here because I was racking my brain a few times (whenever I read a article about submerged computers) in all this years what ever happened to you. Take care Mark Fascist: I never felt Mineral-Oil was messy, after all it's used in a lot of skin creams. :)