Will Self-sufficient Ocean Submersion Be the Future of Data Centre Cooling?

So, last week Microsoft submerged a highly functioning, cutting edge data centre to the depths of the Scottish coastline. The data centre, which is being deployed for up to 5 years, is home to 864 individual servers, whilst boasting a whopping 27.6 petabytes of storage.  

We’ve always seen Microsoft as a leading business in innovation, and the brand is constantly involved in the latest movements towards a better future. Given how their activities impact upon culture, often leading to widespread adoption and change, can we anticipate the root of submersion into the ocean to become the future of sustainable and self-sufficient cooling?

…yes and no. Unfortunately, not all of us have the resources or budget to design, build and construct a data centre to put in the sea for testing, but consider this a step forward in understanding the demands and implications of ocean immersion cooling on a televised scale. Microsoft’s latest stint may well bring forward new and much needed cooling alternatives that are entirely organic and self-sufficient.  

Evidently, most current adaptations of liquid cooling don’t adopt the use of an ocean. Although water-based cooling does fall into the mix, it is not often the preferred choice as water is conductive, corrosive and hugely problematic if it is to leak. More modernised approaches come in the form of a non conductive, non corrosive man-made liquids that allows for electronic components to function out of harm’s way. 

3M are a leading manufacturer in man-made liquid cooling, supplying a handful of solutions to prospective business’s looking to diversify their approach. 3M identify their product through core application of science, adopting a compound known as 'novec'. They have actively crafted their product, applying it to sustainable and efficient practice, and utilising it's unique properties for heat transfer and a condenser cycle to manage temperature. 3M claim that their product can reduce energy usage by up to 95% whilst increasing power density by up to 10x the current rates… whilst also further reducing carbon footprint. Find out more about 3M here: https://www.3m.com/

Icetope are also a leading business specialising in immersion cooling, providing powerful hardware that specialises in keeping data centres under controlled temperatures using innovative and energy-efficient technology. Find out more about ICEOTOPE here: http://www.iceotope.com/

The two examples provided are great businesses with a mission to help reduce a handful of factors that can be troublesome for data centres, however, without the means to disregard their trade, unfortunately like most, their products and services still require energy, resources and continuous maintenance to function efficiently. 

Microsoft’s latest endeavour brings forward the idea of complete self-sufficient cooling. The theory is quite simple - the depths of the ocean are pretty cold and will unlikely see any drastic temperature changes, allowing for the ability to maintain a balanced temperature for the data centre. But as we’ve already touched upon, currently people just don’t have the access to an ocean, so they would have to rely on above ground organic cooling.

The major setback for this movement however is that good quality immersion cooling through a more organic approach is heavily reliant on ambient temperature if to be executed effectively.  Ambient temperature is the measurement of the room or area temperature that the data centre is situated in. It is a crucial element in keeping a data centre at the right temperature, with even trivial changes having a potential impact on performance.

Conflicting arguments occur, though it is recommended that the ambient temperature of a data centre should be no lower than 20°C and no higher than 35°C.  Although quite a large bracket, in the grand scheme of things it only takes a small change in your heat management to send your temperatures out of whack (it only takes a spark to light a forest fire).

Maintaining these kinds of temperatures organically can be troublesome for data centres that are not situated within environments that naturally allow for a sustained temperature within the brackets suggested - which is the majority. Furthermore, upholding these desired temperatures naturally is looking to become even more difficult than ever. With the looming implementation of 5G, data consumption is set to explode beyond measure, resulting in higher demand for power, and increased energy consumption for data centres.

As a result, looking to uphold powerful cooling systems that can run organically, require little maintenance and are also environmentally friendly, may lead to us taking a dip into the ocean as Microsoft have been doing.

With Microsoft’s latest venture, they may find a few breakthroughs within the region of cooling that will see widespread adoption.  Given their track record of project turnover, if there is to be innovative movements within the region of immersion cooling, it will likely be under no time at all. 

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By Oliver Meadham
Junior Digital Marketing Executive at INFINITI