As we started our conversations across the organization about anticipated trends in the data center for 2019, the discussion fairly quickly turned to expected proliferation of higher-powered processors and the innovative approaches to cooling those processors. Because cooling is our business, these were not new debates. We’ve been tracking increasing rack densities and the associated thermal management challenges for years, and this is the next step.
Expectations from the emerging trends in thermal cooling technology
My only concern during these deliberations was a fear or overselling the real-world adoption of these trends. Make no mistake – we will see more and more high-powered processors and we absolutely have to think creatively about cooling them, but we’ll probably see all of this happening most commonly in pods within large cloud and colocation facilities. This should be no surprise, because for several years now most of the innovation in the data center space has happened in those hyperscale facilities before trickling down in some form to the enterprise and even the edge.
The current drivers are: (1) a significant increase in high-performance computing to support artificial intelligence, machine learning and similar applications; and (2) advanced processor design driving chip densities up, like with GPU processors. In extreme cases, we’re seeing 30-60 kW racks housing ultra-high performance and high-powered servers. Some of these high-density racks can be air cooled and some, because of the design of the machines, need to be liquid-cooled.
Direct liquid cooling, the next big thing for data centers?
Cooling technologies have progressed along with server technologies. Now we’re evolving in how we bring liquid to the rack to support these high-powered servers. Direct liquid cooling is when the processor is attached directly to the heat exchanger with liquid or fully immersed in a liquid for heat dissipation, with the liquid being transported elsewhere – usually out of the building – to remove the heat. There are real benefits to be realized – potentially improved server performance, more opportunities for economization, improved efficiency, and reduced cooling costs – but it’s a radical departure from traditional thermal management approaches, and it requires significant changes to the facility and adjustments to surrounding equipment. Already there are colocation providers facing major facility projects to accommodate customers who bring in liquid-cooled racks.
Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be in the data center cooling business.
How is your organization dealing with the changing thermal profile that comes with increasing rack densities and high-powered processors?