3M, SGI, Intel showcase data center immersion cooling technology

April 30, 2014
3M demonstrates two-phase immersion cooling technology to reduce water consumption and energy use, while increasing efficiency.

3M recently announced the implementation of a fully functional supercomputer, developed in collaboration with Intel and SGI, that uses a new, advanced two-phase immersion cooling technology pioneered by 3M. In a recent proof-of-concept demonstration, the SGI ICE X, the fifth generation of the world’s purported fastest distributed memory supercomputer, and the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 hardware are placed directly into 3M's Novec engineered fluid.

The demonstrating companies contend that the new technology leads to a smaller environmental footprint with optimal computing power. SGI’s industry-standard high performance computing technology, coupled with Intel’s energy efficient processors, complement 3M’s ground-breaking immersion cooling technology, which significantly reduces energy and water use and may set the stage for the future of data centers. As the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) spikes, so does the growth of data traffic in the cloud, which requires data centers to deliver more performance and storage with less energy consumption, notes the companies.

“We are thrilled with the work that our collaboration with SGI and Intel has produced,” comments Joe Koch, business director for 3M Electronics Markets Materials Division. “We applaud them for their leadership in helping us find better ways to address energy efficiency, space constraints and increased computing power in data centers. These advancements are a significant stepping stone in accelerating industry-wide collaboration to optimize computer hardware design.”

The 3M Novec fluid is an efficient dielectric that keeps the hardware in the demonstration cooled with minimum additional energy, maximum performance and better reliability. 3M claims that its two-phase immersion cooling technology can reduce cooling energy costs by 95 percent and reduces water consumption by eliminating municipal water usage for evaporative cooling. Heat can also be harvested from the system and reused for heating and other process technologies such as desalination of sea water.

This technique has been shown to require 10x less space than conventional air cooling, claims the company, and eliminates costly air cooling infrastructure and equipment associated with conventional liquid cooling, making it cost effective for large-scale data center hubs. According to 3M, the technology also enables much tighter component packaging, allowing for greater computing power in less space and easy access to hardware with no residue. In fact, 3M claims the system can enable up to 100 kilowatts of computing power per square meter.

In the “data center of the future” the SGI ICE X system can scale seamlessly from tens of teraflops to tens of petaflops, and across technology generations, while maintaining uninterrupted production workflow, according to the company. The system enables tighter component packaging and scalability, helping reduce the system footprint. It also minimizes system overhead and communication bottlenecks that can inhibit efficiency and scalability for a wide range of applications and customer needs.

See also: What will the data center of 2015 look like?

“Through this collaboration with Intel and 3M, we are able to demonstrate a proof-of-concept showcasing an extremely innovative capability to reduce energy use in data centers, while optimizing performance,” says Jorge Titinger, president and CEO of SGI. “Built entirely on industry-standard hardware and software components, the SGI ICE X solution enables significant decreases in energy requirements for customers, lowering total cost of ownership and impact on the environment. We are delighted to work with Intel and 3M on this demonstration to illustrate the potential to further reduce energy in data centers, something imperative as we move to a more data intensive world.”

By investing in advanced cooling technologies, companies such as Intel and SGI say they can explore hardware designs without the heat transfer constraints of traditional cooling, and with greater degrees of both cost- and operational efficiency. The demonstrated installation is designed to prove the viability of the two-phase immersion technology using Novec fluids, and to validate open and future-proof platform designs.

“As the backbone of the data economy, modern data centers must increase the raw performance they deliver, but also do so efficiently by containing power consumption and operating costs,” concludes Charles Wuishpard, vice president, data center group and general manager, Workstation and High Performance Computing at Intel. “Intel is continually innovating and improving microprocessor technologies to meet today’s data center demands and is working with companies like 3M and SGI to explore advanced cooling technologies that improve energy efficiency in data centers, while also containing operating costs.”

In-depth data acquisition and evaluation of the installation will reportedly kick off this month. Additionally, the companies are reportedly working with the Naval Research Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs and APC by Schneider Electric to deploy and evaluate an identical system with the intention to demonstrate the viability of the technology at any scale.

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