Cooling Servers Under Oil

Photo courtesy of Matt Howard (http://www.flickr.com/people/35734278@N05) under the CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Micheal Feldman of HPCwire has written an interesting article about a startup company called Green Revolution Cooling (GRC) that has a competitive and innovative product in the server cooling market.

GRC has developed a server rack that lies horizontally on the floor and is filled with an oil-based cooling fluid. Any server that is built according to the standard form factor can slide into the rack and be cooled by the oil bath.

Servers stored in a liquid solution? For this stroke of innovation (actually, the idea is not entirely new, as Feldman notes, but this is its most recent reiteration) GRC has been selected as one of the “Disruptive Technologies of the Year” for┬áSC ’09 and SC ’10.

So how can servers live underwater (actually, under oil, since oil does not conduct electricity) safely? GRC can take any standard server (including blades and GPUs), remove its fans, and seal it with a special coating to make it safe for oil immersion. According to GRC, 250,000+ server hours of testing their racks has not revealed any malfunctions due to the cooling system.

So what are the advantages of this new kind of cooling system? As Feldman states: “The solution is advertised to reduce the cooling energy by 90 percent and cut overall power consumption in the datacenter by up to 45 percent. The pitch is that a single 10kW server rack at 8 cents per kWh will save over $5,000 per year on energy costs alone.”

Although at least one large supercomputing location (the Texas Advanced Computing Center) has begun using these server racks with happy results, GRC is having a difficult time partnering with server manufacturers to cover their servers under warranty if they are used in a GRC rack.

There are various liquid-cooling solutions on the market, but GRC’s is one of the most creative and cost-effective. It is indeed disruptive technology with lots of cost-savings potential. If GRC can overcome the stigma in the market against dunking servers into liquid, its technology can perhaps become a key player in the cooling industry.