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Innovating Out Loud: Cooling Tomorrow’s Data Centers through Innovation and Collaboration

During a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) workshop I attended in December 2021, I and other industry partners were asked about electricity use in data centers. By 2030, data centers are expected to consume as much as eight percent of the world’s electricity. Demand for high-performance computing has grown rapidly in recent months to match and support the proliferation of artificial intelligence, machine learning and other applications requiring real-time computing and decision-making, and power usage is growing along with it.

Eventually, the conversation at the workshop turned to optimizing data center cooling. Today’s air cooling systems, and even existing liquid cooling technologies, soon will likely not be able to handle the cooling requirements of computer chips. With this reality in mind, the DOE developed its COOLERCHIPS awards program for companies pursuing innovative and highly efficient cooling technologies for data centers. The program’s goal is to “reduce total cooling energy expenditure to less than 5 percent of a typical data center’s IT load at any time and any U.S. location for a high-density compute system.”

Addressing Thermal Management Challenges as a Team

NVIDIA collaborated with Vertiv and several industry leaders from universities, startups, and other vendors to propose a cooling system that helped NVIDIA and its partners secure a $5 million grant from the COOLERCHIPS program. The advanced cooling system project will take place over three years and aims to help solve future data center efficiency and cooling challenges by combining for the first time two data center liquid cooling technologies into a single system.

The COOLERCHIPS application will combine two different approaches: direct liquid cooling and immersion cooling. According to NVIDIA's blog post on the announcement, “First, chips will be cooled with cold plates whose coolant evaporates like sweat on the foreheads of hard-working processors, then cools to condense and re-form as liquid. Second, entire servers, with their lower power components, will be encased in hermetically sealed containers and immersed in coolant. They will use a liquid common in refrigerators and car air conditioners, but not yet used in data centers.”

This approach can theoretically cool a containerized data center placed in an environment at temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius — while drawing up to 25 times the power of today’s server racks. This proposed application would also cost less and run up to 20 percent more efficiently than conventional approaches.

Innovation that Keeps Stakeholders Future-Ready

These types of programs not only aim to make important advancements in our industry, they also align with Vertiv’s own road map for innovation and new product development. In past blog posts, I’ve discussed how Vertiv’s innovation team works to make the organization more agile in developing products to adapt to industry trends and disruptions. We’re doing it by formalizing product development processes, looking years ahead of what’s currently available, and analyzing which technologies will be needed to serve future applications. While this NVIDIA and partners technology solution is still in the ideation phase, the COOLERCHIPS project is an example of Vertiv’s innovation team successfully using these processes to develop solutions to address technology and infrastructure disruptions.

Programs like COOLERCHIPS strengthen our research and development capabilities and provide an opportunity to pursue highly innovative technologies that might otherwise go unfunded as the partners pursue other projects. We look forward to pursuing similar opportunities that align with our business goals and help keep our customers and partners prepared for the future of our industry.

If you have any thoughts or comments on the topic of innovation, please get in touch. I’d love to hear your ideas.

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