University of Leeds tests immersed servers

Researchers at the University of Leeds are trialling liquid-cooled servers that could cut power consumption used in cooling systems in datacentres by up to 97 per cent.

Most servers in datacentres use air to cool them, but server modules used by the university are totally immersed in liquid. This liquid replaces noisy, power-hungry fans.

The system, designed and built by Iceotope in Rotherham, uses a non-flammable liquid coolant, called 3M Novec, and can be in direct contact with electronics because it does not conduct electricity.

Iceotope designed and built the system working with team of researchers led by Dr Jon Summers from the University of Leeds' School of Mechanical Engineering. The first production system has now been installed at the University after two years of testing prototypes.

So far the university claimed that the new system uses just 80 watts of power to harvest the heat from up to 20 kilowatts of ICT use. The server also does away with the need for ancillary data centre facilities such as computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units, humidity control systems and air purification.

Dr Summers said "The liquid we are using is extraordinary stuff. You could throw your mobile phone in a tub of it and the phone would work perfectly. But the important thing for the future of computing and the internet is that it is more than 1,000 times more effective at carrying heat than air."

"The cooling of servers is traditionally done using fans and air conditioning units, but air is a great insulator. We use it in double glazing. Why would you use it to cool a server?" he added.

Dr Nikil Kapur, also from the University of Leeds' School of Mechanical Engineering, said the fact that the system is completely enclosed raises many possibilities. "It does not interact with its environment in the way an air-cooled server does, so you could put it in an extreme environment like the desert. It is also completely silent. You could have it on a submarine or in a classroom."

Peter Hopton, Iceotope's Chief Technology Officer and originator of the Iceotope concept said the basic principle of the design has many applications.

"While a few years away, there is no reason why every home shouldn't make better use of the surplus heat from consumer electronics, imagine having your PC or TV plumbed into the central heating system."

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.