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The rising significance of liquid cooling for data centers

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By Vimal Kaw, Colocation Product Head and New Site Selection Lead, NTT Ltd in India

Data centers are becoming more densely packed as technology advances. Servers are becoming more powerful, and the increased acceleration of computing-intensive workloads (Artificial Intelligence, AR, Big Data Analytics etc), is driving a need for more servers in less space. This has led to an increase in the number of high-density racks, which can contain thousands of servers in a single rack. This is corroborated by research from the Uptime Institute, which states that more than a third of data center operators surveyed say their densities have rapidly increased in the past three years. High-density racks require more power, which in turn generates more heat. This heat needs to be dissipated in order to prevent damage to the servers and ensure that they continue to function properly.

Vimal Kaw

Traditional cooling methods, such as air conditioning and air cooling, have limitations when it comes to dealing with the heat generated by high-density racks. Air conditioning systems can struggle to keep up with the heat generated by high-density racks, and they can also be expensive to operate. Air cooling systems are less expensive to operate, but they can struggle to dissipate enough heat to keep high-density racks cool. Additionally, traditional cooling methods can take up a lot of space, which can be a problem in data centers that are already densely packed.

With rack densities increasing at a fast rate, this is the time to reevaluate and consider alternative cooling mechanisms. This is also important as sustainability initiatives are increasingly being demanded from data center operators and enterprises now expect lesser carbon emissions from their data center service providers. In this scenario, liquid cooling has emerged as a powerful alternative.

The significant benefits of liquid cooling

Liquid cooling is becoming an increasingly popular solution for data centers as they aim to pack racks to full capacity. The higher the density of a rack, the higher the cooling demands. This demand may eventually exceed the capabilities of air cooling systems. Against this context, liquid cooling has significant benefits over traditional cooling methods, making it an attractive solution for data centers. Liquid cooling systems have a higher thermal conductivity and specific heat capacity than air, which means that they are more efficient at dissipating heat. This makes them better suited to dealing with the heat generated by high-density racks.

Another major benefit of liquid cooling is that it can be more compact than traditional cooling methods. This can be especially beneficial in data centers where space is at a premium. Additionally, liquid cooling systems can be designed to be more energy efficient, which can help to reduce the operating costs of a data center. There are a few different types of liquid cooling methods that are available, such as immersion cooling, which submerges the servers in a dielectric fluid, and liquid-cooled racks, which circulates a coolant through racks of servers. These methods have the potential to be more efficient than air cooling.

One of the main benefits of liquid cooling is its ability to transport heat more efficiently and to transport heat away from all parts of the data center, thereby maintaining a sustainable operating environment within the data center. [Liquid cooling allows targeted cooling, which is nearly impossible to achieve with air cooling. It is possible to cool a targeted area (high density cabinets) in a data center without affecting the temperature of the surrounding areas. This allows data centers to maximize their cooling efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

Another benefit of liquid cooling is that it significantly reduces energy consumption. In addition, it uses less water than many air cooling systems, resulting in lower operating costs and more sustainable data centers. Liquid cooling also takes up less space, produces less noise, and helps extend the life of computer hardware.

In the future, as performance expectations and mandates around sustainability increase, data centers will aim to maximise their cooling capabilities. Liquid cooling will hence play a critical role in the future of data center efficiencies as it has the capability to handle next-generation applications and higher-density processors with reduced costs, lesser space and improved reliability and performance.

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