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Immersion cooling to offset massive energy demands from data centers is getting a big boost at Microsoft – TechCrunch

LiquidStack does. Submerge too. They both ditch servers carrying sensitive data in goop in an effort to save the planet. Now, they’re joined by one of the world’s largest tech companies in their efforts to improve data center energy efficiency as Microsoft enters the liquid immersion cooling market.

Microsoft uses a liquid developed in-house and designed to boil at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (lower than the boiling point of water) to act as a heat sink, reducing the temperature inside servers so that they can operate at full power without any risk. overheating.

The vapor of the boiling fluid is converted back to liquid by contact with a cooled condenser in the lid of the tank that stores the servers.

“We are the first cloud provider to run two-phase immersion cooling in a production environment,” said Husam Alissa, senior hardware engineer for the Microsoft team for advanced data center development in Redmond, Wash., in a statement posted on the company’s internal blog.

While this claim may be true, liquid cooling is a well-known approach to managing the displacement of heat to keep systems running. Cars use liquid cooling to keep their engines running as they head down the highway.

As tech companies face the physical limitations of Moore’s Law, the demand for faster, more capable processors means designing new architectures that can handle more power, the company wrote in a blog post. Power flowing through central processing units has increased from 150 watts to over 300 watts per chip and the GPUs responsible for much of Bitcoin mining, artificial intelligence applications and high-end graphics are consuming each over 700 watts per chip.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft isn’t the first tech company to apply liquid cooling to data centers, and the distinction it uses as the first “cloud provider” does a lot of work. This is because Bitcoin’s mining operations have been using the technology for years. Indeed, LiquidStack originated from a bitcoin miner to commercialize its liquid immersion cooling technology and disseminate it to the general public.

“Air cooling is not enough”

More power flowing through the processors means hotter chips, which means better cooling is needed or the chips will not perform well.

“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft’s advanced data center development group in Redmond, in an interview for the company’s internal blog. “This is what leads us to immersion cooling, where we can directly boil the surfaces of the chip.”

For Belady, Using Liquid Cooling Technology Brings Moore’s Law Density and Compression to the Data Center Level

The results, in terms of energy consumption, are impressive. The company found that using two-phase immersion cooling reduced a server’s power consumption by 5% to 15% (every little bit helps).

Microsoft has studied liquid immersion as a cooling solution for high performance computing applications such as AI. Among other things, the survey found that two-phase immersion cooling reduced the power consumption of a given server by 5% to 15%.

Meanwhile, companies like Submer claim to cut energy use by 50%, water use by 99%, and take up 85% less space.

For cloud computing companies, the ability to keep these servers operational even during peak demand, when they would consume even more power, adds flexibility and ensures uptime even when servers are overloaded, according to Microsoft.

“[We] be aware that with Teams, when you arrive at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., there is a huge spike because people are joining meetings at the same time, ”said Marcus Fontoura, vice president of Microsoft’s Azure team, about the company Blog. “Immersion cooling gives us more flexibility to deal with these explosive workloads.”

At this point, data centers are a critical component of the Internet infrastructure that much of the world relies on for… well… just about all technology services. However, this dependence had a significant environmental cost.

“Data centers fuel human progress. Their role as basic infrastructure has become more evident than ever, and emerging technologies such as AI and IoT will continue to meet computing needs. However, the industry’s environmental footprint is growing at an alarming rate, ”noted Alexander Danielsson, an investment manager at Norrsken VC last year, discussing the company’s investment in Submer.

Solutions under the sea

If immersing servers in experimental liquids offers a potential solution to the problem, then immersing them in the ocean is another way for companies to try to cool data centers without spending too much energy.

Microsoft has already been operating an underwater data center for two years. The company actually unveiled the technology as part of a push by the tech company to help research a COVID-19 vaccine last year.

These prepackaged, shipping container-sized data centers can be built on demand and operate deep below the ocean’s surface for durable, high-performance and powerful compute operations, the company said. .

The liquid cooling project shares the most similarities with Microsoft’s Natick Project, which explores the potential of underwater data centers that are quick to deploy and can operate for years on the seabed sealed inside submarine-type tubes without any on-site maintenance by people.

In these data centers, nitrogenous air replaces a technical fluid, and the servers are cooled with fans and a heat exchanger that pumps seawater through a sealed tube.

Startups are also claiming the cooling of ocean data centers (algae is always greener in someone else’s lake).

Nautilus Data Technologies, for example, has raised more than $ 100 million (according to Crunchbase) to develop data centers dotting the surface of Davey Jones’ Locker. The company is currently developing a data center project co-located with a sustainable energy project in a tributary near Stockton, California.

With dual-immersion cooling technology, Microsoft hopes to bring the benefits of ocean cooling technology to shore. “We brought the sea to the servers rather than putting the data center under the sea,” Microsoft’s Alissa said in a company statement.

Ioannis Manousakis, senior software engineer at Azure (left), and Husam Alissa, senior hardware engineer for the Microsoft team for advanced data center development (right), walk past a container in a Microsoft data center where computer servers are subjected to two-phase immersion cooling. tank deal with workloads. Photo by Gene Twedt for Microsoft.

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