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Data Center Liquid Cooling – Is It Time for an Upgrade?

Featured image of a Liquid Cooling Data Center using immersion cooling

As the demand for cloud services, big data analytics and AI computations grows, data centers are housing increasingly dense and powerful computing equipment. This trend has led to higher heat loads, making efficient cooling not only desirable but necessary. In some situations, traditional air-cooled systems, once the backbone of data center cooling, are now being supplemented and even replaced by data center liquid cooling solutions.

In this article, we explore how far our cooling innovations have come and uncover the reality of today’s liquid cooling landscape. We’ll break down the tech news outlet hype around liquid-cooled data centers – what are the options? What makes it special? Is it suitable for every data center? And is this technological shift inevitable? Let’s dive in.

A Liquid Cooling Data Center using immersion cooling technology

Immersion Cooling Technology for Data Centers

Why is Liquid Cooling Superior?

Liquid cooling is superior in data centers due to its higher thermal conductivity – liquids conduct heat up to 1,000 times better than air – allowing it to efficiently remove heat directly from high-power computing components. 

This direct heat removal leads to significantly lower operational temperatures, enhancing the performance and longevity of sensitive electronic equipment. Additionally, liquid cooling systems are more energy-efficient than traditional air cooling, reducing operational costs and a creating a smaller carbon footprint.

Energy Savings

Another core benefit that liquid-cooled data centers enjoy is energy savings. In quantitative research conducted by NVIDIA and Vertiv, data centers that use liquid cooling systems reduced their total data center power consumption by 10.2% – an 18.1% reduction in facility power! From a financial perspective, this reduction is $740,000 less than from power-hungry data centers that consume $7.4 million annually.

Types of Data Center Liquid Cooling Systems

There are many data center liquid cooling systems in place – some more complex than others. However, these three are the most dominant ones in use today:

Direct-to-Chip Liquid Cooling

Direct-to-chip (D2C) cooling involves circulating a coolant directly over the heat-generating components, such as CPUs and GPUs. This method significantly increases cooling efficiency by removing heat directly at the source. D2C systems can use a variety of coolants, including water, dielectric fluids, or refrigerants, depending on the application’s needs and the desired cooling capacity.

Immersion Cooling

Immersion cooling takes liquid cooling a step further by submerging the entire server, or parts of it, in a non-conductive liquid. This technique is highly efficient as it ensures even and thorough heat absorption from all components. Immersion cooling is particularly beneficial for high-performance computing (HPC) and can dramatically reduce the space and energy required for cooling.

Rear-Door Heat Exchangers

Rear-door heat exchanger units are a hybrid solution, combining air and liquid cooling. These units are attached to the back of server racks, using a liquid-cooled coil to remove heat from the air exiting the servers. This method is often used as an intermediary.

Direct-to-Chip Liquid Cooling solution for CPU in a Data Center

Close-up view of Direct-to-Chip Liquid Cooling

Data Center Liquid Cooling Cons

“If liquid cooling is so great, why haven’t we implemented it in every data center?” you may be asking yourself. The answer is simple: we haven’t perfected the technology. There are still a number of cons that make this solution more of an option for massive data centers who are willing and can afford to take the risk.

Higher Initial Setup Cost

Implementing liquid cooling in data centers requires a substantial initial investment. This includes the cost of the cooling system itself, such as pumps, pipes, and liquid handling units, and potential modifications to the existing infrastructure to accommodate these new components.

Complex Maintenance Requirements

Liquid cooling systems are day-and-night more complex to maintain than traditional air cooling systems. They require regular monitoring for leaks, proper handling of the cooling liquids, and maintenance of additional components like pumps and liquid distribution systems, necessitating specialized skills and training (more initial expense). Moreover, modern servers that use denser equipment and computers require crane-system assistance for immersion cooling setups, which can be a massive infrastructure endeavor for data centers considering making the shift. 

Risk of Leaks and Liquid Damage

There is an inherent risk of leaks in any liquid cooling system, which can significantly damage expensive data center equipment. Ensuring leak-proof systems and having emergency response plans are essential, but they add to the operational complexity and costs.

Should Your Data Center Opt for Liquid Cooling Solutions?

Probably not. With the current tech and innovation, upgrading to a full liquid-cooled data center can be incredibly expensive with many unknowns. Even apart from its complexity and cost, there are no currently established standards for data centers to follow. However, we’re not saying that it’s a bad idea. 

Liquid cooling data centers have their place in the tech world, but it’s mainly for data centers ready to shell out billions of dollars. The ones eager to be at the forefront of the industry and pave the way for better big data analytics, AI computations, and cloud services. 

For edge computing and businesses requiring a more straightforward, more reliable solution – Modular Data Centers and All-in-One Data Center Cabinets can provide the same benefit without the hefty price tag. 

Are Liquid-Cooled Data Centers the Future 

Based on the current forecast, it looks like it. 

The global data center liquid cooling market is projected to grow from USD 2.6 billion in 2023 to USD 7.8 billion by 2028

But is it for every data center operator? Not at the moment. 

In the future, as more and more innovations come up, standards are created, and OEMs create more liquid-cooled-stable equipment, liquid cooling will become a more dominant cooling technology due to its efficiency and eco-friendliness. In the meantime, there are other ways you can increase airflowcontact us to find out more!

About the Author

Louis Chompff - Founder, AnD Cable Products, Rack and Cable ManagementLouis Chompff – Founder & Managing Director, AnD Cable Products
Louis established AnD Cable Products – Intelligently Designed Cable Management in 1989. Prior to this he enjoyed a 20+ year career with a leading global telecommunications company in a variety of senior data management positions. Louis is an enthusiastic inventor who designed, patented and brought to market his innovative Zero U cable management racks and Unitag cable labels, both of which have become industry-leading network cable management products. AnD Cable Products only offer products that are intelligently designed, increase efficiency, are durable and reliable, re-usable, easy to use or reduce equipment costs. He is the principal author of the Cable Management Blog, where you can find network cable management ideas, server rack cabling techniques and rack space saving tips, data center trends, latest innovations and more.
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