Cooling your Sustainable Urban Data Centers through Immersion Cooling

Written By

Serge Conesa
Founder and CEO



Digital Infra Network spoke to Serge Conesa, founder, and CEO of Immersion4 about the benefits that immersion cooling offers and how it allows data centers to be integrated into smart cities.

Can you start with an introduction to Immersion4?

Immersion4 is a company that focuses on cooling electronics by immersing it in liquid. That is what we do. We realised decades ago that cooling electronics with air was going to face massive problems, it leads greenhouse gas (GHG) and CO2 emissions, has huge demands on water, and incurs a massive cost of energy, only for the sake of producing data. We thought that maybe there was another way to produce data, and immersive cooling is an easier way to produce that data in the most resilient manner without having the energy and the pollution cost.

How can immersion cooling reduce data centers energy consumption?

When you look at the concept of data center, it is basically cooling an entire room to cool off some hotspots somewhere in the rack, somewhere within the data room. And for these you have entire infrastructure with raised floor, high ceiling, chemical fire suppressor, UPS back-up system, AC, and HVAC. This system is climate sensitive so you need to be careful on where your data centers are to avoid too big a temperature swing that will increase the cost of energy required to maintain the optimum temperature within the data center.

How much more sustainable is it?

It is between 70 to 90 per cent better in terms of sustainability, so this is a no brainer. Sustainability is driven by the way we build electronics, the way PCBs are designed, also the way electronics are recycled. Without immersive cooling, there is no sustainable data center, period.

Can you explain your concept that data is energy?

In 2016 data center were responsible for three per cent of the world’s energy use, one per cent of GHG emissions and a few hundreds of million litres of water. By 2025 we are talking about 20 per cent of the world energy, ten per cent of GHG emissions and over three trillion litres water.

Now, why data is energy? Basically, because there are different types of data and the energy you can recover. An email server does not use much energy, but crypto mining uses a lot, especially with the vast amount of heat generated by the electronics.

You have a delta between 20oC to 65oC on the dissipated heat from the electronics that you can recover. When you multiply that by the number of electronic appliances – CPU, FPGA, and others, you come up with a massive number. If you look at crypto mining today, we can completely change that paradigm because for crypto mining, you need 65oC in order to cool them and you can completely reuse the calories that are generated by these electronics. That is the concept of data as energy. Because at the end of the day 20 per cent of the world’s energy is the part consumed by electronics. If there is not enough heat, we can evacuate it. If there is enough heat, we can transform it back into energy.

Can you explain your distributed urban data center efficiency (Dude) model and the sustainable data center architecture (SDA) concept?

Dude is a way to distribute data center within the city in a smart manner. Meaning we can bundle data center with cogeneration to use the data center as an energy producer. In that case, this is a win-win situation. We know that it is very hard for an air cooled data center to reuse the heat because of trying to take the heat from a room as opposed to trying to take the heat from the liquid. If we use immersive cooling, it is a liquid to liquid calorie exchange with a very minimal loss between the two circuits. You can completely collect the calories spent into the liquid due to the digital heat and withdraw them back into energy.

The way we design our system is built on eco conservation. What that means is that if you look at a traditional air cooled data center, 30 to 40 per cent of the electricity is used by the IT load and 60 to 70 per cent for the cooling system. If you look at an Immersion4 system, we have 80 per cent of the electricity dedicated to the IT load and 20 per cent to the cooling system. So we completely change the ratio between how we are spending electricity to power the data.

So you are talking about changing the form factor of the data center.

We just have to look at the way we design the data center today. The ceiling is between five to seven metres high, there is massive air circulation with fans everywhere, and hot aisle and cold aisle clusters inside. None of that is needed in an immersion cooled data center. For an immersion cooled data center it is located in a normal room with 3.5 metres with no data center infrastructures, no raised floor, high ceiling, chemical fire suppression, upsize of the UPS and back-up system, and there is no upfront sizing, that is also one of the major differences. For example, if you take a data center, at 500 KW it is 117 racks at five KW per rack, within 270 square metres. On the same surface area you can do 106 dynamic thermal management (DTM) system from Immersion4 with a 4.08 MW data center to change the size of the data room. We change the paradigm.

Tell me about the DTM open systems.

The DTM system and the IBC miner systems are designed the same way with both able to welcome any kind of servers whatever the format. We designed this to ensure that all our systems are speaking the same language, the management system we have developed is completely rackable. It is a chassis, it is a liquid, and everything goes back to the temperature inside the enclosure, because the system is an enclosure. Now, the frame inside allows for rigs of any kind in the market within the same enclosure. What we have accomplished is to create a universal cooling infrastructure for any kind of device that exists in the market for any appliances for data centers. After that the issue was for us was how to put all of them together in a cooling loop and that is what we have done. Today, we can connect for the first time, the DTM and IBC miner on the same core loop within the same room, with no electrostatic, noise, humidity, corrosion, or oxidation, so the room will be climate neutral.

When you talk about pollution free are you talking about operational reduction in energy consumption as opposed to scope three emissions on the hardware.

First of all, the CO2 and GHG emissions due to the back-up system is reduced by half. Also you need to have an air quality control within your data center with the necessary filters to avoid the micro particulate emissions, which are bad for humanity. Our CO2 and eco particulate emissions have been monitored for the past two years by the municipality of Annecy and they are zero; we do not have any. That is important for an urban data center that might be housed in a residential building, you need to be sure it is somehow pollution free.

Tell me about societal impact and smart cities as the hosts and the incubators.

We tried to reinvent or to rethink what is really needed to preserve data resiliency, and with less energy consumption. For that we needed to simplify it. We need to simplify the building and the cooling infrastructures and look at the impact electronics suffer when they are producing data.

If we look at all the electronics problems, they are related to the way we are cooling them. From the beginning electronics were cooled in the air, which means there is humidity, electrostatic, corrosion, oxidation, and dust. When you put them in liquid those problems disappear.

What defines the lifespan of electronics is related to mechanical vibration and temperature swing. Again, those are two things that do not occur in the Immersion4 data center.

I understand you are working quite closely with HPE and other server manufacturers, so how does that affect the warranty?

Even today servers are being designed to be air cooled, so we are on a per project basis because the customer data center owner knows the benefit of the technology and has decided to use our technology. There is a large and growing pressure in the market to talk about sustainable data centers. I am not talking about greenwashing; I am talking about real, sustainable data centers. The vendors are under pressure to comply to these sustainability rules. For the past three years HPE has been very active with us, supporting Immersion4 in many ways. For every customer that we have now, on a per project basis, they are providing the modification and supporting the modification of the servers based on the customer requirements. From our side, we have insurance from AXA worldwide and this allows us to cover any damage we might do to any server or any third parties using Immersion4 technology. It has been quite a journey, but we have got the validation and I am quite happy with that.

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