Bitcoin Mining Arms Race Boosting Interest in Liquid Cooling

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These racks are filled with high-density servers immersed in cooling fluid. The installation in Hong Kong was created by Allied Control using 3M's Novec fluid. (Photo: Allied Control)

These racks are filled with high-density servers immersed in cooling fluid. The installation in Hong Kong was created by Allied Control using 3M’s Novec fluid. (Photo: Allied Control)

Energy Efficiency Drives Profitability

Mining profitability calculations aren’t useful unless they account for the cost of electricity. That’s why energy efficiency is crucial to the economics of bitcoin mining, as reducing the electric bill to operate the hardware has a direct impact on the profitability of the mining operation.

“The standard few KVA per 19-inch rack on electricity and cooling capacity of the average data center have long been exceeded by students mining in their dorms or basements,” said Alex Kampl, VP of Engineering for Allied Control, a Hong Kong firm that builds high-performance hardware and data centers. “Mining pools and mining consortiums were organized over the Internet. Purpose-built mining farms started to operate. Investments became quite substantial, with professional people getting involved in chip design and bigger facilities being built around the world. We are talking about 1 megawatt to 5 megawatt facilities.”

As it becomes more difficult to earn new bitcoins, miners boost their computing horsepower, and energy efficiency becomes more important.

“Whatever the hardware, there will be the day where the electricity cost to run it and cool it will be higher than the income it can generate,” said Kampl. “That’s when it’s time to replace it with the next generation. If you are paying close to nothing for cooling, you can extend this by a few months, which is an eternity in the world of Bitcoin mining. Lifespans are becoming shorter and shorter. We might be talking about months or weeks in the near future.”

Last month we profiled the Hong Kong data center project developed by Allied Control using a two-phase cooling technique known as open bath immersion (OBI). Allied Control does not disclose its clients, but the operator of the facility was recently revealed when photos of the data center were shared at Bitcoin Talk. Chinese entrepreneur Xiaogang Cao was given a tour of the facility by ASICMiner, which sells ASIC hardware and also mines for its own accounts.

Kampl says immersion cooling tanks are ideal for Bitcoin mining because they can support rapid hardware refresh cycles. The backplanes housing the ASICs can be designed to support multiple generations of chips, and immersion cooling can support much higher densities than current hardware requires. Allied Control has created a data center container design for HPC users, which provides the scalability and speed-to-market for mining operations.

Build Once, Upgrade Often

“The logical next step for (miners) is to use a universal system,” said Kampl. “You build the enclosure and infrastructure only once and just replace the hardware inside. The system we have deployed at this moment is only scratching on the surface in terms of capacity.”

Another leading provider of immersion cooling, Green Revolution Cooling (GRC), also offers a containerized system, which currently supports the world’s most efficient supercomputer.

“We have had an extremely high amount of interest from this community,” said Matt Solomon, Marketing director at Green Revolution. “It makes a lot of sense for them and they are catching on to this fact.”

Some hardware builders are adopting a different approach to liquid cooling. CoinTerra is working with CoolIT, which provides cold plates and heat pipe technology to bring liquid cooling directly to the chip.

“Bitcoin mining systems carry a unique thermal profile, which require the most advanced, custom cooling solutions,” said Iyengar, the CEO of CoinTerra. “We chose CoolIT because they have the best technology and track record in this space.”

“Working with an industry pioneer like CoinTerra is an important step towards liquid cooling becoming an industry standard,” said Geoff Lyon, CEO of CoolIT Systems.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief 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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5 Comments

  1. Learn how to own Bitcoin and the alternative cryptocurrencies that are going up in value very rapidly at www.crypto-coins.org They teach you how to get Bitcoin and where to go to get the alt coins. My Megacoin has gone up 5,660% this month. Worldcoin is also up substantially. This is due to the Wall Street Journal bringing this opportunity to the attention of investors, but they teach you all about that at crypto-coins.org

  2. In my opinion the mining of Bitcoins isn't full of profit in Germany! The energy costs too much! If the price of Bitcoins is going further, then it will be profitable in Germany too!

  3. Kevin

    It's actually the improvements in computing power which lead to bitcoins being harder to mine. The difficult level of bitcoin mining is regularly adjusted so that on average one bitcoin should be mined every 10 minutes (3,600 a day). If total computing power on the bitcoin mining network remained static then the difficulty wouldn't change. As more people start mining and get better equipment this brings the overall computing power up and so the difficulty has to be adjusted upwards to bring the mining rate down. What's happening now is a arms race where people with the most money can buy the best mining rigs the earliest and mine the bitcoins faster than everyone else on the network, forcing the difficulty level up again. The only winners are the mining chipset makers who sell the units for cash 3 months before the machines are actually delivered, at which point they only have a few months before they essentially obsolete themselves). It is essentially a pyramid scheme guaranteed to end in another 15 years at the most when there should theoretically be no more coins to be mined (barring quantum computing being applied to this and putting an end to it all).

  4. Rich- Awesome article! We included it in our Monthly Resource Roundup http://www.interworx.com/community/the-monthly-round-up-decembers-best-system-administration-hosting-security-and-enterprise-it-content/