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How is immersion cooling technology helping data centre operators to fulfil their sustainability goals?

How is immersion cooling technology helping data centre operators to fulfil their sustainability goals?

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4D Data Centres, a leading UK-based infrastructure management provider, has announced a partnership with PeaSoup, a pioneering UK cloud provider with a heritage of disrupting the cloud market by the use of innovative technologies. In this partnership, 4D is providing colocation services to host an highly energy-efficient ‘pod’ that uses immersion cooling technology. Both companies share a vision to provide the UK cloud and data centre markets with low carbon footprint solutions.

This innovative immersion pod will be colocated at 4D’s award-winning data centre near Gatwick airport. The deployment will enable PeaSoup to provide HPC cloud services from a tier-3 green data centre, a service called the Eco Cloud.

Jack Bedell-Pearce, CEO at 4D Data Centres, said: “Colocation data centres are the green option for eco-conscious businesses and 4D is committed to its responsibilities towards the environment. Immersion cooling is a solution that fits perfectly with our sustainable strategy for a number of reasons. Aside from reducing risks of overheating, immersion cooling’s efficiency means it is able to cool high-density computer systems without increased power consumption. It also represents a greener alternative to other cooling methods, which will use more power to cool the same amount of processing capability.

“As an authority on High-Performance Computing (HPC) hosting solutions, 4D was keen to help PeaSoup deliver its cloud services and achieve its sustainable goals by finding a cooling solution that was both effective and eco-friendly.”

The end result is an innovative solution that combines the strengths of 4D’s tier-3 data centre and immersion cooling technology. Immersion cooling is a process that sees computer components or even full servers being immersed in a dielectric liquid that enables higher heat transfer performance than air.

For the installation at the Gatwick site, the ‘pod’ uses a biodegradable dielectric fluid – that has half the density of water – and heat exchangers to cool down IT equipment. The fluid is kept cool by using intercoolers and water, via an internal heat exchanger that extracts heat from the fluid and redistributes it into chill water, which is subsequently pumped away and cooled down again in 4D’s adiabatic cooling towers, a similar process is used in the automotive/machinery industry. The end result is a sustainable solution that is aligned with both 4D and PeaSoup’s values.

“Immersion cooling is not commonly encountered in colocation data centres and the technology is mostly only available to companies with the cooling infrastructure to host one of these units,” said Bedell-Pearce. “By offering immersion cooling to our clients and their end customers, 4D is making green technology available to a wider variety of companies.”

Bedell-Pearce concluded: “As demand for High-Performance Computing continues to grow, we are very excited to be working with companies like PeaSoup who are pushing us and cooling technology suppliers to explore the boundaries of what is possible.”

We heard from a number of industry experts to glean their thoughts on the benefits of immersion cooling technology.

Nigel Gore, Global Offerings, High Density and Liquid Cooling at Vertiv: The new data centre applications in areas such as AI or VR require more computing power and generate significantly more heat. Data centres are struggling to reduce the extra heat generated by these new demands using traditional air cooling systems, which are no longer up to the job and are energy-intensive. 

Data centre operators are under huge pressure to manage their carbon footprint and emerging liquid cooling technologies are an important tool for addressing this challenge. So much so that Omdia research predicts the use of some forms of liquid cooling (including immersion cooling) to double between 2020 and 2024. 

Immersion cooling requires servers and other IT equipment to be submerged in coolant liquid tanks of dielectric fluid. This method captures the heat and eliminates the need for energy-intensive air-based cooling. Immersion cooling requires minimal energy input, so is more efficient than other cooling methods.

New opportunities 

Immersion cooling also captures and utilises waste heat. For example, a recent initiative involved a 5G infrastructure provider pumping the water used for liquid cooling into a housing complex. This ‘waste heat’ was reused to provide heating to the domestic water supply and central heating. This not only creates a sustainable process for data centre operators, but also opens up potential new revenue streams for infrastructure providers – a win-win situation. 

Working together 

As data centres come under renewed scrutiny on their energy needs, immersion cooling will be a frontrunner solution for sustainable data centre practices. But this is just the beginning. We will also need collaboration between industry and academia to ensure we build a sustainable future. At Vertiv, for example, we’re working with the Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems (ES2) partner universities to improve the efficiencies of data centres. This type of partnership can assist in developing compatible materials, further our understanding of fluid hygiene filtration and containment methods, and optimising controls for liquid cooling systems.

Ultimately, it’s how we manage the demand for data and the energy it requires, that will shape the future of the data centre industry, and immersion cooling plays a key role in this vision. 

David Craig, CEO Iceotope: The data centre industry was responsible for 1% of global electricity in 2018, and the requirement for data centres is only increasing. Immersion cooling can greatly assist data centre sustainability by significantly reducing – typically by 70-80% – the overall cooling electricity, depending on how efficient the installation already is.

Another important sustainability factor which is under reported is water use. The industry uses vast amounts of it. Immersion cooling consumes zero water as opposed to billions of litres of water with air cooling strategies used in many data centres across the globe.

So, while data centres globally are using vast amounts of water, with precision cooling, there’s water in the process, however, it doesn’t get consumed. Allowing for maintenance and water loop refreshes, you can very easily be looking at 95% + water reductions.

Another hinderance to sustainability is better heat recovery and better heat reuse. It is possible to capture virtually all of the heat from the electronics efficiently, which you can’t do easily or very usefully with air. And then that heat can be reused and repurposed into district heating loops and in buildings.

If a data centre operator was to use renewable energy, then using liquid cooling intelligently, the PUE ratio can get as close to one as possible. This would provide the site with a very strong sustainable performance overall.

There are other factors, with greater density of electronics, which immersion cooling permits – you need less physical space and there is less physical hardware deployed and infrastructure. This means you can repurpose space much more effectively. It’s often said that ‘the cleanest data centres are the ones you already own’ or perhaps the ‘extra space you didn’t build’ because it simply wasn’t necessary.

Immersion cooling is less harsh on the electronics, hence getting better life out of them which assists dramatically to lowering the carbon footprint of dealing with and managing electronics in remote and also traditional data centre applications.

All servers are designed to be air-cooled. If you designed liquid-cooled servers, they are smaller and more efficient. At the simplest level, the supply chains for servers become hugely reduced. This would be a significant step when you consider the data centre industry emitted 160 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020.

So, how does immersion cooling help data centre operators meet their sustainability goals? Very simply consuming less rare and polluting resources to help meet all our targets. Reducing the cost of those resources, reducing the cost of the buildings, facilities and locations, reducing the costs of running the centre through much less use of electricity and water, lowering the cost of managing and maintaining, and then ultimately reducing the cost of the supply chains that are involved.

Rolf Brink, Founder and CEO, Asperitas: Immersion cooling is a base technology which fully captures all thermal energy in liquid. The Asperitas innovative concept of Immersed Computing focuses on the integration of IT equipment with immersion cooling. This allows the deployment of immersion cooling with warm water cooling and high reliability of IT equipment because it also includes the optimisation of IT equipment for this type of technology. However, to address global data centre challenges regarding sustainability, efficiency and flexibility, immersion cooling goes far beyond just the technology. It embraces the most efficient model for operating IT equipment, reducing the energy footprint of said equipment by eliminating overhead energy. Moreover, the ability of the liquid to capture all the IT energy combined with warm water cooling enables solutions ready for heat reuse.

Immersion cooling technology actively helps data centre operators fulfil their sustainability goals, as using this approach makes it possible to reduce the energy footprint by up to 50%. Presently, data centres are consuming around 4% of the global energy supply, using energy for IT and cooling. Each data centre consistently churns out warm air which is too low in temperature to efficiently distribute and transport. Changing the common cooling medium (air) for the much more efficient medium (liquid) is changing everything for data centres. It addresses the global challenges, preparing data centres for a future of high density and performance hardware, facility efficiency anywhere and sustainability.

Total immersion cooling ensures no oxygen touches the IT components, thus preventing oxidation. Thermal shock is greatly reduced due to the high heat capacity of liquid. The immersed environment only has minor temperature fluctuations, greatly reducing thermal expansion stress on micro electronics. These factors eliminate the root cause for most of the physical degradation of micro electronics over time. All of the Asperitas data centre immersion cooling solutions are driven by natural convection to circulate the dielectric liquid for heat transfer. Consequently, pumps are not needed for this purpose, resulting in solutions whereby moving mechanical components and energy overheads are not present.

By making the energy available for reuse for heating, Asperitas reduces the footprint of a third-party with the heat demand, enabling the transformation of data centres from heavy energy consumers into energy suppliers and contributors to the circular economy (100% energy reuse ready).

The key goal for immersion cooling is to enable sustainable and high-performing data centres that facilitate all emerging digital technologies, anywhere and on any scale. The real opportunity is to enable data centres to run with a PUE of 1.04 anywhere and add value by optimal IT performance and heat delivery. Asperitas believes in thinking differently, with responsibility towards the future energy footprint and therefore contributing to a better world.

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