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Will 2012 be the year of immersive mineral oil cooling?

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HPC blog | Vid I first met the Green Revolution guys back at SC09 in Portland, Oregon. As I roamed the exhibit hall, people kept telling me to check out “those guys with the deep fryers full of servers”. At last I found them out in the lobby, which is the kids’ table section of the show.

Above is a quick video of their demo that I shot while they told me about their plans, and why immersive cooling was the next wave (so to speak) in data center cooling. As I walked away I thought, “This is a science project. They’ll either run out of money or get discouraged, and I’ll probably never see them again.” While I do think that liquid cooling in some form is going to make a big comeback, I figured that immersive cooling was probably a step too far, and if it did happen, it would come from a larger and more established company.

The next time I saw them was at SC11 in Seattle – not as a demonstration, but as a key sponsor of the University of Texas Student Cluster Competition team. According to the team, using Green Revolution’s cooling allowed them to put more gear to work and definitely helped them finish near the top of the pack in the competition.

The Texas team gave me a walk-through of their equipment in this video: You can also see them changing out a node in the video attached to this article.

I ran into them again just last week at GTC 2012 (see video interview below): They’ve come a long way since that demo system at SC09. They now have 10U, 42U, and 60U designs that can accept almost any standard 19” rack mount server. Green Revolution technicians only need to strip the fans off of the servers, put a liquid-proof capsule over the hard drives, and replace the thermal grease with a substitute that doesn’t mix with mineral oil.

More importantly for Green Revolution, they now have a reasonably long list of customers and report that they’re fielding new requests for information right and left. A quick look at their website shows that they have culled enough data from these customers to figure out some real-world cost numbers.

For a new data centre (or an extensive retrofit), they figure that going with their immersive solution will result in building costs that are 30 to 40 per cent less than traditional data centres of comparable capacity. These saving arise from the elimination of CRAC units and chillers, plus the ability to use smaller generators, UPS units, and much smaller air conditioning units. When it comes to operating expenses, they calculate that a 20KW (42U) installation will save more than $100,000 in energy and infrastructure costs over a 10-year period.

It’s particularly appropriate that they were at NVIDIA’s GTC 2012 show. Tesla GPUs are incredibly speedy when it comes to processing code, but like everything fast, they generate quite a bit of heat. Users looking to maximise facility and operating efficiency would be well advised to check out immersive cooling. Once you get past your initial “What the hell?” reaction, you’ll see how it could make a lot of sense for particular situations. If you already see its potential dividends, then maybe you’re ahead of the wave. ®

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