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After Submerging Servers Under the Sea, Microsoft Now Plans to Use Boiling Liquid to Cool Data Centres
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April 12, 2021 News

 

Written by: Rogelio Legaspi, Journalist, AOPG

In another effort by Microsoft to cool data centres in a more sustainable way, the company is now looking into the immersion of servers inside a steel holding tank filled with a special liquid – one that is non-conductive and does not require cooling in itself.

According to Husam Alissa, Principal Hardware Engineer on Microsoft’s team for data centre advanced development, this is the first time a cloud provider is running two-phase immersion cooling in a production environment. Two-phase in a sense that the liquid carries heat away from the processors and the resulting vapour changes to liquid going back onto the servers, creating a closed-loop cooling system.

The fluorocarbon-based liquid is engineered to boil at 50 degrees Celsius when removing heat from the servers. This technology, which is using warm liquid instead of cold in cooling servers through immersion, was also discussed before in an article by DSA.

Essentially, this approach functions with the principle that you can lower the temperature of a processor with a liquid that isn’t necessarily “cold” but is relatively cooler than the component you’re trying to cool. As processors can reach up to 80 degrees Celsius in temperature, this approach means that the data centre does not need to pre-cool the liquid, omitting the need for power-intensive chillers.

As to why this technique was adopted by Microsoft, Christian Belady, distinguished engineer and Vice President of Microsoft’s data centre advanced development group, said, “liquid cooling enables us to go denser and thus continue the Moore’s Law trend at the data centre level”.

This is because Moore’s Law states that more transistors are put onto the same size chip, doubling the speed of computer processors every two years. Subsequently, this also means more electric power pumped through these processors, which causes the chips to get hotter.

Today, conventional air-conditioning is no longer sufficient to cool data centres and it is also highly energy-consuming, even accounting for the majority of a data centre’s electricity consumption. That is why Microsoft hopes that this immersion method will be successful, as the company aims to find more sustainable solutions.

Just last year, Microsoft retrieved its shipping container-sized data centre that had been submerged in the sea for around two years. Called Project Natick, the team responsible found that data centres deployed underwater are eight times more reliable than their land-based counterparts.

Microsoft aims to adopt these cooling methods for more extensive applications, say a data centre under the sea to meet the low-latency requirements of nearby users or a data centre in a liquid-filled tank under a 5G tower to support self-driving cars.

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