The Wet Servers

7/14/2013 9:23:03 AM

We have a look at a new concept in server cooking and chats to the designers

Cooling a significantly sized server room is a challenge in itself. The energy requirements necessary to keep a constant air temperature are quite extraordinary, making the server room a less than green approach to providing adequate cooling. Then there are other aspects to take into consideration, such as humidity control systems, air purification, air conditioning servicing… the list goes on, and quite soon the server room itself has become the single most expensive part of nay company’s IT equation.

The Iceotope system uses server modules that can be easily fitted into the rack

The Iceotope system uses server modules that can be easily fitted into the rack

However, the UK firm Iceotope has an ingenious solution. Led by Dr. Jon Summers, from the University of Leeds’ School of Mechanical Engineering, a team of researcher has installed the first production system of servers completely immersed in liquid.

Traditional air cooling has a number of disadvantages when it comes to transferring heat away from a server. For starters it’s very expensive, it’s noisy, it requires more energy and it’s not particularly effective. Whereas liquid is server thousand times more effective at transferring heat, it’s quieter in doing so and requires significantly less energy.

The liquid in question is called 3M Novec, a non-flammable coolant that doesn’t conduct electricity. In fact, it’s so exceptional that said “The liquid we’re using is extraordinary stuff. You could throw your mobile phone in a tub of it and the phone would work perfectly.”

The server and the liquid cooled system uses a model based on computational fluid dynamics to represent the coolant as it flows through the server, making it an ultra-efficient system, designed with a simple low energy pump installed at the bottom of the cabinet, pumping a secondary coolant, which is water, to the top, where it cascades down through all 48 modules of the server thanks to gravity. The secondary coolant then terminates at the heat exchangers within the cabinet for the transfer of heat to a third and final coolant, on an external loop, taking the heat away for external cooling or for reuse.

The high efficiency of this system means that the output water can reach temperatures of up to 500C, which can then be used for heating rooms and providing hot water. Overall, the Iceotope-designed system uses a mere 80W of power to harvest the heat form up to 20KW of ICT use.

It’s extraordinarily impressive, and because there are no fans or air conditioning units, the server room is considerably quieter and users and estimated 80 to 97% less energy to keep the equipment at perfect operating temperature.

Interview with Iceotope

We took a moment from Iceotope’s busy schedule to ask the team a few questions regarding this revolutionary liquid cooled system:

Can you tell us a bit more about the Iceotope Company? When did it start? What are its objectives and goals?

Founded in 2011 with acquired IP dating back to 2005, Sheffield- based star-up Iceotope has designed and engineered and innovative liquid cooling system that solves some of the most pressing challengers facing today’s data center operators. The technology has the potential to halve the energy usage of the data center industry, prevent millions of tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere and reduce the spiraling costs of running a data center facility. Iceotope ultimately aims to offer 24/7 ‘free cooling’ anywhere in the world, including equatorial and desert regions.

GEIT Awards 2013

GEIT Awards 2013

Was all the R&D work conducted here in the UK, through and in conjunction with various universities?

Iceotope is the culmination of a five-year, UK-based R&D effort. The company has worked in partnership with various universities to include the University of Sheffield, Hallam and most recently the University of Leeds. The current system is also backed by industry leaders such as 3M and AMD.

How easy would it be for a company to implement the Iceotope Liquid Cooling Server solution into its own organization?

By negating the need for air handling, chilling and humidity control equipment at the server, rack or building level, the Iceotope Solution can be located almost anywhere with access to power and water, including industrial space or populated areas. By negating fans from the equation, the Iceotope solution is completely silent in operation, meaning that servers can now be located in environments that were previously considered unsuitable for data center use.

“The Iceotope concept may very well be the saving grace and a positive outlook for a more green IT future”

The Iceotope system transfers heat from the servers and can be used to heat up a standar radiator.

The Iceotope system transfers heat from the servers and can be used to heat up a standar radiator.

How do the setup costs of the Iceotope system compare with that of a traditional machine room, air con setup?

By removing the need for specialized data center design, the Iceotope Solution slashes CAPEX and OPEX in equal measure. Traditional ‘air cooled’ data center facilities require extensive and expensive infrastructure, sometimes resulting in 2/3 of the overall design. Such facilities also require much more physical space for ventilation (hot and cold aisles). The Iceotope Solution can be configured as a single supercomputer, multiple server racks or scaled out to create entire data centers, offering new builds and retrofits more building and more space for their money.

Would there be any advantage to implementing this system at the desktop level? For overclocking, perhaps?

Possibly, but our core market interest is not desktops at the moment. Overclocking aims to keep desktop computers running cool, whereas the Iceotope Solution aims to run server rooms neutral in terms of heat thus allowing for optimal processing power. We might look at designing a desktop product further down the line.

Which companies have so far used this technology?

The first production system was installed at the University of Leeds in January. We are in the process of installing a second system in Poland, buyer to be announced and bidding for a third requirement within the UK.  We have a strong sales pipeline for 2013 and into 2014.

What happens if the systems fail? Is there a fan-based backup that kicks in?

There is no fan-based backup; the cooling systems are fault tolerant and fully redundant. They can also tolerate prolonged outages due to the thermal latency in the system.

The Iceotope server racks in use at the University of Leeds.

The Iceotope server racks in use at the University of Leeds.

Aside from reducing cooling cost by 97%, what other ‘green’ benefits are there to be had from this system? Are the materials used manufactured in a ‘green’ way, and can they themselves be recycled?

In addition to reducing cooling costs by 97%, the Iceotope Solution reduces ICT power load by 20% and overall ICT infrastructure cost by 50%. The technology can also help reduce associated CO2 emissions – something that the data center industry is going to have to address soon, since it has been estimated to be on par with that of the airline industry in the years to come.

The Iceotope Solution also delivers high-grade heated exhaust water, which can be reused to heat buildings or for other applications – another very valuable ‘green’ benefit that is unique to Iceoptope.

Our patented products are designed ‘cradle to cradle’ ensuring that all core components can be recovered and reused many times and all of our products are also designed, engineered and manufactured locally within the UK, and that’s something we are very proud of.

How do you see the future of data center and server room cooling evolving? What projects do you have in line for future Iceotope systems?

We believe that most data centers will be liquid cooled in the future, the reason being that liquid is thousands of times more effective at transferring heat than air, and the cooling aspect of such facilities is the single largest contributor to inefficiency.

If you purchase a car today, the first thing you think about is running costs (fuel efficiency). Although the data center industry is enjoying double digit growth year on year, it’s suffering from nay pain points that liquid cooling can solve, such as running costs (cooling efficiency).

We’re finding in real customers that flexibility and adaptability are key buying motives, funded by energy savings. The fact that the Iceotope Solution does not even need a data center environment, combined with the fact that it unifies servers and infrastructure into a single simple yet elegant solution makes the choice for many to switch from traditional air cooling to next-generation liquid cooling a simple and sensible one.


The world of server room cooling is on the verge of something very big. With the Iceotope system in effect, imagine the global implications to the carbon footprint. The future is certainly looing impressive, but there are still hurdles to overcome, chiefly the acceptance of a new innovative system.

However, those involved are confident that Iceotope’s system of cooling is the future; as Peter Hopton, Iceotope’s chief technology officer and originator of the Iceotpe concept, said, “more than five years of research, innovation and collaboration have gone into Iceotpe’s technology. The basic principle of the design has many applications and, while a few years, away, there is no reason why every home shouldn’t make better use of the surplus heat form consumer electronics. Imagine having your PC or TV plumbed into the central heating system”.

Peter Hopton

Peter Hopton

In a world where the internet and cloud services will grow to unimaginable proportions and data centers become the equivalent of small towns in size, we as users have to take responsibility for the impact our daily lives have on the environment, and the Iceotope concept may very well be the saving grace and a positive outlook for a more green IT future.

Key facts about data centers

·         The world’s data center use 31 gigawatts  of power – more than seven times the capacity of the UK’s largest coal-fired power station, Drax in North Youkshire.

·         Data center carbon emissions are projected to quadruple between 2008 and 2020.

·         The UK has 7.6 million square meters of data center floor space.

·         One in three of the world’ population use data centers. The number is growing at around 15% annually.

Further information

If you’re interested in the Iceotope system and you want to find out more about the hardware and the concept behind it, then take a look at the following pages:

·         www.iceotope.com – the Iceotope home page.

·         Goo/gl/1no5V – Leeds University’s research news

·         goo.gl/9Q0qA- A video detailing the Iceotope system, including the dunking of an iPhone into the liquid.

·         Googl/SpOsV – a collection of Iceotope demonstration videos.

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