Computers

Microsoft's new cooling system dunks data servers in boiling liquid

Microsoft's new cooling system...
Microsoft's experimental new data center cooling system immerses electronics in tanks of boiling liquid
Microsoft's experimental new data center cooling system immerses electronics in tanks of boiling liquid
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Microsoft's experimental new data center cooling system immerses electronics in tanks of boiling liquid
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Microsoft's experimental new data center cooling system immerses electronics in tanks of boiling liquid
Ioannis Manousakis (left), principal software engineer, and Husam Alissa (right), principal hardware engineer, inspect a tank of the new cooling system
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Ioannis Manousakis (left), principal software engineer, and Husam Alissa (right), principal hardware engineer, inspect a tank of the new cooling system
A server blade is removed from one of Microsoft's experimental new data center cooling systems
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A server blade is removed from one of Microsoft's experimental new data center cooling systems
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Liquid cooling is one of the most effective ways to keep computers from overheating. While the natural first choice might be a liquid that runs cold, Microsoft has now done the exact opposite, demonstrating a system to cool its cloud servers by dunking the computers into a tank full of boiling liquid.

Electronics produce heat as they work, which can lead to failure if it gets out of hand. In data centers that can become a huge problem, requiring around-the-clock air conditioning that in turn makes these facilities massive guzzlers of energy. To counter that, companies have started building data centers in the Arctic circle, under the sea, or beneath Norwegian fjords.

Now Microsoft has shown off a clever new technique, which it calls a two-phase liquid immersion cooling system. The electronics are actually immersed in a vat of liquid, which wicks away the heat they produce while running. This liquid has a low boiling point of just 50 °C (122 °F), so it doesn’t take long for it to bubble away. As it evaporates, the vapor hits a cooled condenser in the lid of the tank and rains back down, creating a closed loop.

Ioannis Manousakis (left), principal software engineer, and Husam Alissa (right), principal hardware engineer, inspect a tank of the new cooling system
Ioannis Manousakis (left), principal software engineer, and Husam Alissa (right), principal hardware engineer, inspect a tank of the new cooling system

The liquid itself is a strange concoction specially designed for this task to have a low boiling point. It’s also “dielectric,” meaning it acts like an insulator so it won’t short out the electronics while they’re running.

Microsoft says that this technique has a few advantages. It should reduce failure rates of individual components and allow them to be overclocked without risk of overheating. And with that risk removed, the chips could also be crammed in more densely to improve latency and performance.

For now, the company is running one test in a data center in Redmond, Washington, where it will monitor the results over the next few months. If it all goes well, Microsoft says it might end up in more of its facilities.

Source: Microsoft

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17 comments
17 comments
Willem
This moves the energy to the cover of the tank. But then it still has to be removed to another location. So this does not help anything, not compared to setting up in a cold area.
froggywood
It’s good to see a topic that has been the subject of research and development for a number of years (two-phase cooling) getting into mainstream bulk systems. This technology can improve the operating temperature of the processor chips and increase reliability, but the heat still has to be sunk to either ambient air or water. I expect that the dissipation of the removed heat to ambient air, outside the datacentre, is still a major challenge.
guzmanchinky
Willem you are incorrect. The rate of heat transfer for a liquid is so many orders of magnitude higher than air, the whole process would be many times more efficient.
Pablo
This seems to address a couple issues, heat transfers much more efficiently into a liquid than a gas, and changing phase absorbs multiples of what even the liquid would. This will also eliminate dust collecting on and around components and causing local hot spots. Years ago, these liquids were almost always CFCs, I’d imagine they’ve chosen an environmentally friendlier option.
michael_dowling
Willem: Good point. I can only assume it is an improvement because it localizes the heat release,and makes keeping the cooled condenser easier to cool. Maybe something like a nearby lake/river would circulate cooling water through the condenser?
Nahor
> While the natural first choice might be a liquid that runs cold, Microsoft has now done the exact opposite

No, they haven't. Just because a liquid boils doesn't mean it's hot. Here it just means they chose a liquid with a boiling point lower than what we are used to (100°C, water as sea level), as mentioned later in the article (50°C).
Username
Just like @Nohor points out, the title is cheaply sensational. Something that is becoming a bit too common here.
Expanded Viewpoint
What a pile of stinking garbage!! It's probably nothing more than a stupid publicity stunt coupled to some kind of a tax write off! If you pump any given amount of KW of electricity into a machine that converts that electricity into heat by doing some work, you've converted the electricity into heat, which must then be moved back out into the environment again where it came from! The heat in the evaporated liquid must be drawn off by radiating it away from the vessel to get it to condense back into a liquid again,. How is that stage of the process done, by big fans blowing air across some fins? This is just a variation of the Carnot Cycle. Nothing new to see here, move along, please.

Randy
Catweazle
Cooling utilising nucleate boiling, hence removing heat via latent heat of vapourisation instead of pure conduction, has been used since the 1930s as a cooling method for high performance aero engines.
ljaques
Well, I guess this will help until we figure out how to build micro-volt nano-circuitry, combined with SSRs, which will obviously require less sinking of heat.
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