Matteo Mezzanotte, PR, Communication and Content Manager, Submer Immersion Cooling, discusses the importance of sustainable innovation and how such an approach can positively shape the future of the data centre industry.
The cooling principle
If you ever had the pleasure of visiting one of the many Greek islands, you probably brought back with you unforgettable memories: mythological landscapes with breath-taking cliffs and rocky beaches, small villages touched by the Aegean sea and dozens of Orthodox churches scattered everywhere on dry hills of thorny bushes and inhabited only by goats.
The buildings on Greek islands almost all look the same, with white walls and blue roofs. This architectural choice is not justified by aesthetic reasons alone – though it works very well with tourists. There is a much more practical principle behind it: summers in Greece can be very hot, but even in the hottest afternoon under a scorching sun, you would be amazed to feel how cool the white walls – not to mention the inside – of these buildings are. Let us say that these buildings are built according to a ‘cooling’ principle. This concept brings us onto data centres…
High density getting higher
The increasing rise of computational need and the evolving of IT computing capacity are posing a challenge to the current data centre industry. Data centres need to define new strategies and designs to cope with the workloads required by, for example, Artificial Intelligence or any other computation-intensive works like medical imaging, financial modelling, 3D simulations for scientific research, oil and gas exploration, for example.
Packing more computing power into IT equipment means boosting the power density of a data centre, but it also means increasing the heat produced by racks and cabinets.
An unstoppable growth
In the last few years, the data centre industry has witnessed a major change in the global compute capability, with an increasing shift of workloads from on-premise infrastructure to the cloud. A new study revealed that data centres computing output jumped six-fold from 2010 to 2018, with a general energy consumption rise of about 6%.
This growth reflects a general, diffused and unstoppable digitalisation process that has regarded small, medium and large enterprises as well as private citizens; ‘data consumers’. And it is reasonable to think that the penetration and adoption of the digital technologies at any level in every area and segment of the society will be boosted whenever a new behaviour pattern arises in the society (economic crisis, global health emergency situation, etc.)
The more the global cloud demand grows, the more the data centres need to improve their performance by increasing their efficiency. This has clearly had a direct impact on other aspects related to the data centre management and maintenance procedures, such as cooling. The heat-loads generated by modern data centres to answer the ‘need of data’ are far above traditional, server-based applications and this drastically increases the costs of cooling the equipment and the space needed to operate it effectively.
The point of no return
Attacking the challenge of cooling in the data centre with colder and forced air is nothing more than staying in line with what the industry has been doing for the last 50 years – a typical evolution of ‘adding fuel to the fire’. And it is also a process which, like any evolution, is destined to end: data centres increasingly require higher densities (reaching 100 kW per rack will soon be normal and necessary) and it is simply not possible to think of cooling them with traditional methods (that is, by means of air). We must accept that we have already reached the point of no return.
Immersion Cooling is a revolution that changes the rules of the game and opens the opportunity to irrefutable energy savings and heat reuse.
Immersion Cooling: Back to the future
Liquid immersion cooling is not a new technology, it has been widely used since the 1940s to cool high-voltage transformers.
In recent years, Immersion Cooling has returned to the spotlight and there is evidence that it will represent the most efficient cooling solution in the years to come and become mainstream in the not-so-distant future. In spite of the experts’ forecast, according to which the Immersion Cooling market in data centres is anticipated to register a CAGR of over 40%, during the forecast period (2020-2025), not everybody is fully convinced that Immersion Cooling can represent a viable solution. Submer (among others) is invested in Liquid Immersion Cooling and is gathering increasing support for its vision of this tech as the present and the future of next-generation data centres.
It has been observed that, Moore’s Law (according to which the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years) is slowing down and that, sooner or later, we will get to its inevitable demise. Alex Carrol, Managing Member at Lifeline Data Centers, said: “When the average per rack power density is greater than 7 kW per rack, the space utilisation goes down to almost 50%. This is because almost 50% of the space is then needed by power and cooling equipment alone and only 50% of the space can be utilised by the actual IT equipment.”
All these observations make a case for Immersion Cooling as the most efficient clean tech guaranteeing unprecedented IT hardware densities compared to air cooling (Submer’s solution allows to achieve >100kW per rack footprint while saving 99% of cooling costs).
We are nearing the second half of 2020 and we have seen more and more cases that would confirm this tendency (from Google to Facebook).
Nevertheless, there is still a certain resistance by some of the most traditional companies in accepting a technology that, despite it being invented some decades ago, is only now slowly becoming accepted as what it is a major disruptive solution that will change data centre operations and design.
Education, the first step for a revolution
At Submer, we believe that innovation can and must be sustainable. Every day, we work to find the best solutions to make operating and constructing data centres and supercomputers as efficient as possible and to have little or positive impact on the environment around them (reducing their footprint and their consumption of precious resources such as water).
It is time for the data centre industry to turn over a new leaf. It is time to challenge how data centres are perceived and understood today and create deep change in the way technology and humans behave.