IBM Water-Cooling Technology Helps Computers Beat the Heat, Energy Costs

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-01-02 Print this article Print
Today: Using Unchilled Tap Water

Today: Using Unchilled Tap Water

Milnes David, an engineer in IBM's Energy Efficiency Lab in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., inspects the chilled innards of a specially cooled computer the company developed for the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a two-year research project, which is drawing to a close. The project sought to increase the efficiency of the world's 33 million computer servers and resulted in 21 IBM patents for technology known as heat-exchangers, which can cool computer servers using unchilled tap water, an innovation that can slash in half the amount of energy used in data centers.


Keeping computing systems and data centers cool—in a cost-effective and energy-efficient manner—has been a constant challenge facing IT departments. Regardless of whether it is the middle of summer or the first day of winter, many businesses must turn on air-conditioning systems in their server rooms or data centers to keep their computers functioning properly, and the cost of air conditioning is a significant portion of an IT department's energy bill. Today, it is estimated that up to 25 percent of an average air-cooled data center's energy consumption and carbon footprint is not caused by computing but by powering the necessary cooling systems to keep the processors from overheating—an untenable situation when looking at energy efficiency from a holistic perspective. Understanding the limitations of air cooling, IBM researchers have long embraced water. With conductivity properties up to 4,000 times better than air, water offers a promising path toward sustainability. For the past several years, thousands of companies have benefited from IBM's patented Rear Door Heat Exchanger technology, an option available on server rack doors for IBM Power systems and System x servers, which can reduce air-conditioning requirements by more than 55 percent. Traditionally, the heat exchangers have operated using chilled water. IBM researchers in the company's Poughkeepsie, N.Y., lab have just developed a new technique that allows for the use of unchilled tap water. This latest development in water cooling is one in a long line of innovations that date back to 1966. Here, eWEEK takes a look at IBM's past, present and future innovations in water cooling.


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