An example of an immersion cooling system for bitcoin from Allied Control, with rack-mounted tanks and custom piping system.(Photo: Allied Control)

Bitcoin Gets Liquid: BitFury Buys Immersion Cooling Specialist

One of Bitcoin’s biggest players is turning to immersion cooling to address the shifting economics of cryptocurrency mining. Bitcoin hardware specialist BitFury Group said today that it will acquire Allied Control, a startup known for designing a high-density bitcoin mine in a Hong Kong skyscraper.

The deal is a vote of confidence in immersion cooling, in which high-density hardware is dunked into fluids similar to mineral oil. BitFury’s move suggests other mining players may also examine liquid cooling as a tool to slash operating costs following a price crash, which has altered the economics of bitcoin and caused a shakeout in the mining sector.

The acquisition may also boost the use of data center containers to allow bitcoin miners to shift capacity to areas with cheaper power costs and renewable energy sources.

BitFury is a leading maker of specialized semiconductors for Bitcoin transaction processing (“mining”), known as Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs). Last year BitFury raised $20 million in venture funding to roll out a global data center network, including facilities in Finland, Iceland and the Republic of Georgia.

Allied Control creates extreme density data centers for high performance computing. Last year it expanded into bitcoin, creating tanks filled with Novec, a liquid cooling solution created by 3M. Each tank houses densely-packed boards of ASICs. As the chips generate heat, the Novec boils off, removing the heat as it changes from liquid to gas. The system is extremely efficient, with one client reporting a Power Use Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.02.

“This acquisition will enable us to substantially increase the energy efficiency of our data centers and speed up deployment of our new ASIC chip, allowing us to lower overall capital expenditure,” said Valery Vavilov, CEO of BitFury. “In addition, it provides an opportunity for us to enter new markets such as HPC, using the experience of the Allied Control team. The use of immersion cooling will provide BitFury with flexibility when choosing locations for our data centers.”


Liquid cooling solution boils inside an Allied Control immersion cooling tank, dissipating heat from the bitcoin ASIC boards visible under the surface. (Photo: Allied Control)

BitFury says that using immersion cooling will reduce operating expenses on data center maintenance as well as on lowering its PUE. It has been working with Allied Control on proof of concept (POC) for its immersion-cooled data center. “The results, so far, are very promising and we are looking forward to significantly scale up soon,” the company said.

The shift to immersion cooling reflects a sharper focus on data center efficiency by industrial mining operations, whose profit margins have been squeezed by the recent collapse in the price of bitcoin. After soaring as high as $1,100 in late 2013, the value of a bitcoin has plunged to about $230. This has had a huge impact on bitcoin cloud mining, with some firms shutting down or halting payouts to customers.

In addition to supporting extreme power density, immersion cooling has the potential to slash the cost of data center infrastructure, allowing users to operate servers without a raised floor, computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units or chillers. It also allows ASICs to operate without fans, which are typically among the largest components of a bitcoin mining rig.

Rapid Refresh Rate

Allied Control’s immersion cooling tanks are ideal for bitcoin mining because they support rapid hardware refresh cycles. The backplanes housing the ASICs are designed to support multiple generations of chips.

This is of particular interest to BitFury, which has updated its ASIC design three times over the past two years to keep pace with the arms race in bitcoin hardware. In 2013 bitcoins were mined using CPUs and GPUs, followed briefly by FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays), and then the launch of custom ASICs.

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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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