Liquid Cooling Cuts Costs, Heats The Building At Innovation Centre

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Iceotope has prepared the facility for the “worst winter in decades”

Sheffield-based Iceotope has installed its proprietary liquid cooled servers at a Huddersfield University innovation centre that cut the energy consumption of the High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure, – and also heat the building through domestic radiators.

The 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC) at the University of Huddersfield, should appreciate the upgrade ahead of what’s expected to be the “worst winter in decades”. Since the system doesn’t require fans, the servers are also considerably quieter than their air-cooled counterparts – and can be placed right where students and academics can use them, instead of a dedicated server room.

“HPC is often isolated from everyday operations, tucked away in a little sound proof room, but that scenario is far from ideal,” said Dr Michael Wilson, Technology Director at the 3M BIC. “We’ve been able to locate powerful computing right next to our users, without detriment to their working procedures. I’m sure our tenants will get quite a kick knowing that the servers are even helping heat the building.”

It’s getting hot in here

Iceotope technology works by wrapping each server blade in a metal case that has coolant coursing through it, helping avoid the costs and carbon emissions associated with the need to cool the entire data centre.

1iceotope-graphicTraditionally, HPC infrastructure consumes a lot of power and requires plenty of cooling. The R&D labs at 3M BIC are no exception. They are running detailed mathematical modelling of molecular dynamics, mechanical engineering and physics, as well as supporting a growing number of SMEs and larger companies in the area.

In September 2013, Iceotope finished the redesign of the cooling system, outfitting the servers with hardware that uses just 107W to cool 20KW worth of IT (old school set-ups can burn as much energy in the cooling systems as the IT kit).

The Iceotope modules immerse the electronics in an inert Novec coolant – made by 3M. A low-energy pump drives a secondary coolant circuit in which water removes the heat from these modules.  The reusable coolant is fire-resistant, and can come in direct contact with electronics, since it does not conduct electricity.

The innovative system reduces the price of the cooling infrastructure as a whole – it doesn’t require computer room air conditioning units, humidity control systems or air purification. It also cuts down on utility bills for the facility as a whole, since the HPC cooling has been looped into the building’s heating system and is actively heating the site via domestic radiators.

“Servers can get incredibly warm and at a certain point, everything begins to melt, break or fail. It’s this hardware failure that is the problem, not the heat as such,” explained Peter Hopton, CEO at Iceotope.

“While most servers will desperately try to remove and dump the heat using spinning fans, at Iceotope, we endeavoured to create a solution that was able to re-use the waste heat while keeping the electronics cool. It always seemed a strange scenario to me, using fans to cool a computer in the same room in which you’ll have the heaters on full blast. Thankfully, the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre no longer has to work like this.”

Iceotope - 3M Buckley Innovation Centre

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Iceotope Cabinet

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