Liquid-Cooled Server Offerings Heat Up

Systems makers add the feature to fight hot air in data centers.

With the twin burdens of power and cooling costs in the data center rising, some systems makers and users are looking to add liquid cooling options to their servers.

Hewlett-Packard and Egenera—in partnership with Liebert—in recent weeks rolled out products that use either water or a liquid refrigerant to cool the hot air that comes out of the back of server racks, lessening the amount released into the data center that must be cooled by wall-mounted air-conditioning units.

The new offerings follow IBMs release last July of eServer Rear Door Heat Exchanger—dubbed "Cool Blue"—for the companys Intel processor-based xSeries servers.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about HP and Engeneras cooling offerings.

The rollouts of liquid cooling devices come at a time when power and cooling costs are becoming priority issues for IT administrators. Faster, hotter-running chips and smaller, denser server form factors are fueling much of the increased interest in cooling issues, as is the spiraling cost of energy.

Technology companies are addressing the issues in a number of ways, including the use of more energy-efficient multicore processors, enhanced server management software and virtualization. However, liquid cooling—most commonly associated with legacy mainframe systems—also is being considered.

"Water cooling [and] liquid cooling [are] coming back," said Bob Sullivan, senior consultant with The Uptime Institute, in Santa Fe, N.M., during a conference from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 on power and cooling, hosted by Sun Microsystems, Advanced Micro Devices and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "From an efficiency standpoint, the closer you can get water cooling to the heat load, the more efficient you can be."

Thats good news for OpSource, a software hosting company that runs about 750 HP ProLiant BL25p and BL35p blades—running AMD Opteron chips—in its three data centers. And that number is growing: The company adds five to seven new customers each month, necessitating another five to 25 servers each, according to Mitchell Cipriano, OpSources vice president of marketing.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about IBMs "Cool Blue."

"One of the issues you need to deal with is how do you get rid of the heat to deal with the density," said Cipriano in Santa Clara, Calif. "HP has done that with some of the new products."

There are more such products on the way. NEC Solutions America toward the end of the year will roll out the next generation of blade servers in its Express5800/1000 family that will include an NEC-patented rack that will come with liquid cooling options, according to Mike Mitsch, director of alliances at the Rancho Cordova, Calif., company.

In addition, within the next few weeks, American Power Conversion will roll out a number of new modular, liquid-based products aimed at cooling both rows and individual racks.

The issue of cooling is only going to grow in importance, according to Vernon Turner, an analyst with IDC, in Framingham, Mass. Speaking at the Sun/AMD/EPA conference, Turner said that server shipments will increase by 14 to 15 percent by 2009, and that more and more of those will be smaller servers costing less than $3,000. And for every dollar spent on hardware, 50 to 100 percent more will be spent on cooling, said Turner.

"What I see when I talk with customers is that they have [racks in] the 6- to 8- kilowatt range," said Paul Perez, vice president of storage, networking and infrastructure for HPs Industry Standard Servers unit, in Palo Alto, Calif. "With blade system and scale-out deployments ... I see 8 kilowatts going to 15 or 20 kilowatts in the next two years."

HPs Modular Cooling System, which attaches to the companys new HP 10000 G2 Series rack, was a key part of a larger rollout of products and services aimed at helping enterprises deal with data center thermal issues.

However, not all OEMs are looking at liquid cooling devices. Officials with Sun, also in Santa Clara, said the company is focusing on innovations at the chip level—such as its new UltraSPARC T1 chip, which has a power envelope of about 70 watts.

John Fruehe, enterprise product marketing manager with Dell, said customers can go through Dell to buy such devices from APC and Liebert, but the Round Rock, Texas, company itself is focusing on system design, services and more energy-efficient chips from Intel to address the thermal issues.

However, proponents say the problem has grown to the point where they want to give customers as many options as possible. The CoolFrame technology from Egenera and Liebert can drop the cooling load of an Egenera BladeFrame EX chassis from 20 kW to 1.5 kW and reduce data center cooling costs by as much as 23 percent, Egenera officials said.

HPs system, which uses water from sources already available in the data center cooling units, enables users to put up to 30 kW of power in a single rack, Perez said.

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