Why Density Will Become the Most Important Metric for Data Center Cooling cover

Why Density Will Become the Most Important Metric for Data Center Cooling

On: January 24, 2024 Comments: 0
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Critically important computing equipment runs on a 24/7 schedule in data centers. Out of necessity, these centers consume large quantities of energy and generate a great deal of heat. Data center cooling technologies and strategies can eliminate excess heat before it can damage sensitive systems and components.

High-density data centers concentrate more computing performance into smaller spaces. Although they offer significant performance and efficiency benefits, they also create unique logistical challenges with respect to heat removal. Fortunately, high-density data center operators have multiple advanced cooling technologies to choose from. Of these, single phase immersion cooling is an extremely attractive option, thanks to its logistical ease and sustainability.

What Are High-Density Data Centers?

In data centers, the term “density” refers to the amount of electricity consumed per square foot of internal space or per server rack. As density increases, higher volumes of computing power are concentrated into smaller areas. For data center operators, high-density facilities fill an obvious logistical need. Namely, they extract more performance from limited amounts of physical space, thereby delivering superior efficiency and cost savings. Going head-to-head with air cooling, immersion cooling was reported to cut space occupied by some two-thirds.

Data center cooling technician
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At the setup stage, high-density data centers require specialized configurations. Operators may, therefore, need to make substantial investments to modify or convert data center facilities for high-density applications. However, once they are up and running, such data centers offer numerous benefits:

  • They are scalable and have excellent space efficiency, giving operators competitive advantages.
  • Concentrated computing power leads to a reduced infrastructure footprint.
  • Lower overhead and infrastructure costs can generate long-term cost savings.
  • Faster query responses and processing larger quantities of data more quickly lead to superior performance.

At the same time, high-density data centers have more complex cooling needs. They require carefully optimized and strategically planned cooling solutions to maintain performance and safeguard sensitive equipment and hardware.

What Data Center Cooling Challenges Do High-Density Facilities Face?

All data centers demand carefully controlled cooling solutions. Without this safeguard, the heat these centers generate can cause performance efficiency losses or damage servers, their hardware, and the data they contain. Cooling needs increase proportionally with density: as power density rises, cooling capacity needs rise alongside it. This is because higher computing densities generate greater quantities of heat, which then become concentrated within a smaller physical space.

High-density facilities also face distinct data center cooling challenges because of numerous factors, including:

  • Complexity. High-density data centers require meticulously planned designs and intricate physical layouts. The logistics involved in achieving the desired level of computing density often make traditional solutions, such as air cooling, impractical or inadequate.
  • Airflow. Equipment and servers in high-density data centers are packed into complex arrangements, which can disrupt or limit airflow. As a result, localized concentrations of ambient heat, known as “hotspots,” can easily form. This calls for specialized data center cooling strategies.
  • Costs. Although high-density data centers offer some cost benefits with regard to infrastructure and physical efficiency, these can be offset by elevated cooling costs.

Sustainability is another concern. High-density data centers consume large quantities of electricity, and those reliant on water cooling also place significant strain on local resources.

Metrics to Consider When Choosing Data Center Cooling Solutions

Because high density delivers superior performance by packing more computing power into a limited physical area, the industry continues to evolve toward ever-higher density profiles. In selecting data center cooling solutions for high-density facilities, operators must consider metrics across three key classes:

  • Quantitative metrics. Factors such as power usage effectiveness, the cooling capacity factor, and the cooling energy efficiency ratio generate hard data that can be used to compute cooling needs.
  • Qualitative metrics. Indicators including thermal comfort index, cooling failure rates, and the localized cooling regulatory index offer performance insights for site operators. These are then used to formulate cooling strategies and optimize cooling system performance.
  • Site-specific factors. Operators must also consider a data center’s physical features, such as raised floor bypass open areas, perforated tile placements, and bypass airflow rates.

Effective Cooling Solutions for High-Density Data Centers

Operators of high-density facilities can choose from multiple data center cooling options capable of successfully managing site-specific cooling needs. The right solution for any given data center depends on a combination of site-specific factors, quantitative metrics, and qualitative indicators. Examples of effective solutions include:

  • Direct-to-chip cooling. Also known as single-phase immersion cooling, direct-to-chip methods involve physical contact between the surface of a server’s processing unit and a water or water-glycol liquid coolant.
  • Microchannel liquid cooling. Microchannel liquid cooling also uses a water or water-glycol coolant. This is pumped through tiny tubes within a cold plate positioned directly atop the surface level of a server’s processing components.
  • Calibrated vector cooling. With a combination of liquid and air cooling, calibrated vector cooling (CVC) uses air to remove ambient heat while physically applying liquid coolants to components and equipment that generate extremely large quantities of heat.
  • Rear-door heat exchange. Both passive and active rear-door heat exchange systems use complex fan systems to draw heat out of the server racks and replace it with liquid-cooled air.
  • Immersion cooling. As its name suggests, immersion cooling involves the physical immersion of servers in a specially formulated liquid coolant. The cooling solution neutralizes heat without affecting computing performance, improving energy efficiency while eliminating the need for cooling methods based on air exchange.
Data center cooling technology
Source: Shutterstock

Advantages of Immersion Cooling

Immersion cooling holds several distinct advantages. It offers major electricity savings, with analyses finding that it reduces energy consumption by around 50% compared with air cooling. This frees up power allowing it to be used more productively to increase compute capacity.

This also dramatically improves its sustainability profile while facilitating precisely targeted cooling without the need to reconfigure site-specific plumbing or ventilation systems.

Modular liquid immersion cooling systems let site operators make substantial improvements to the density profiles of their facilities without the need to implement major modifications or investments. Data center operators can also select technologies that deliver purpose-built immersion cooling for blockchain applications.

Connect With Sustainable Next-Generation Data Center Cooling Solutions

As a data center cooling solution, immersion cooling offers exceptional promise thanks to its practicality, cost-effective implementation profile, and sustainability advantages. It represents an effective and affordable solution to the specific cooling challenges high-density operators face as global computing needs continue to rise at exponential rates.

High-density data centers will become increasingly important as data-intensive technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the blockchain are integrated into the computing mainstream. Green Revolution Cooling (GRC) is an authoritative provider of high-performing immersion cooling systems that meet the growing needs of modern data centers.

Get in touch with GRC to learn more or to discuss your site-specific data center cooling needs.