Your future data-centre: servers immersed in box full of oil, in a field

Frying a motherboard will stop being a bad thing if two European companies have their way

Horizon Computing's RuggedPOD
Horizon Computing's RuggedPOD

OPENSTACK SYDNEY Your next data centre could be an aluminium box filled with a handful of servers swimming in oil.

That's the vision El Reg today beheld at the OpenStack Summit in Sydney, as advanced by a pair of European companies.

One of the companies is called Horizon Computing, which has created the “RuggedPOD”, a 70cm x 70cm x 70cm box capable of housing four micro ATX motherboards or eight mini ITX boards. All swim in a bath of organic dielectric oil, a substance that conducts heat but not electricity and means solid state components can work even though they are wet. In concert with heat-sink-like designs for the POD's exterior, convection alone will keep the servers at a useful temperature. The POD is also tough enough to work outdoors, which further helps cooling.

The POD has just two connections the outside world: one for power; one for a network connection.

The second company is Italian public cloud provider Enter Cloud Suite (ECS), which is beta-testing the pods because it thinks the pods make sense as a place to run workloads that don't need fixed infrastructure. Containers and their ilk, the company reasons, don't need much more than something running Kubernetes. And if that happens to be a passively-cooled server in a field, and the price and latency are right, why wouldn't you?

ECS representatives at the Sydney OpenStack Summit imagined a near-future in which data centres made up of passively-cooled server pods reside in buildings without heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Or windows, for that matter, to ensure air flow.

This idea is not entirely far-fetched. Dielectric oils are already used to bathe the innards of transformers and other electrical infrastructure. ECS is an OpenStack shop and thinks the stack, plus Kubernetes, can orchestrate workload placement across a fleet of multiple dispersed PODS. Throw in the fact that solid-state disks will soon surpass their conventional cousins' capacity, and PODs could even start to offer handy amounts of storage

The Register thinks the idea could fall down on density: ECS told us the PODs can handle a kilowatt of kit, which ain't a lot in a 70cm cube.

One upside, however, is that oil-immersed servers would surely make for many new stories for On-Call, The Register's weekly tale of support jobs that went south. ®

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