IBM has signed a deal to licence its method of cooling servers with water instead of air to another company, a seal of approval for the emerging technology.
Panduit, a global networking and electrical manufacturer, will licence IBM’s Rear Door Heat eXchanger product, a 12cm deep cooling door to be mounted on the back of a conventional server rack in a datacentre. Water courses through the door, cooling the processors in the server hardware.
IBM’s water-cooled system reduces server heat output in data centres by up to 55% compared with air-cooled technology, says Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer for IBM’s BladeCentre and System x server product lines.
The heat exchanger is part of IBM’s CoolBlue portfolio of products, which manage datacentres more cost-effectively, reducing the heat generated by the increased processing power of servers and the increased number of servers crowded into datacentres.
Datacentre operators who use fans for cooling have been slow to embrace water cooling because “it’s difficult to do water cooling inexpensively”, Bradicich says. But over the past 18 months, the growth of datacentres running large numbers of industry-standard x-86 type servers “has been getting extremely out of hand,” he says. The growth drives up demand for electricity to run more powerful computers and to keep the equipment cool. High energy costs have made water-cooled solutions more viable.
However, while water-cooling is getting a closer look from some IT administrators, they still have some reservations about it, says Michael Bell, a Gartner analyst.
Water-cooling can initially be more expensive to introduce into a datacentre than air cooling, and IT managers worry about water systems leaking and causing damage, Bell says. Some are sticking their toe in the water-cooling pool cautiously, clustering their highest powered servers into one part of their datacentres and introducing water-cooled technology only in that area, he says.
But as datacentre electricity bills grow, “I think we’ll see water usage coming more into play,” he says, adding that it now costs datacentres as much to cool a server as to power it.
IBM rival Hewlett-Packard introduced a water-based cooling system for its high-density servers in January.
Blade server-maker Egenera has also introduced a product called CoolFrame that integrates Liebert’s X-Treme Density cooling technology into a blade architecture. Liebert is a division of Emerson Electric.