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Open Bath Immersion Cooling

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Published on Apr 22, 2013

Passive 2-phase or evaporative immersion is emerging as one of the only liquid cooling technologies capable of meeting simultaneously the energy efficiency, power density, cost and reliability goals of the IT industry. Node level cooling hardware is eliminated altogether allowing electronic design to progress unimpeded to demonstrated densities as high as 4kW per liter. Heat is managed at one point per modular liquid bath with unmatched thermal efficiency. This presentation includes an introduction to open bath immersion cooling, a new approach to 2-phase immersion, and a review of recent and pending research.

It is generally recognized that liquid cooling of servers can dramatically increase energy efficiency and power density. In IBM Zurich's Aquasar system, tight thermal coupling between CPU junction and the water allows the water temperature to rise to 60C. This makes it more economical to reject and even utilize that heat. The power density in the IBM P7 IH supercomputer has reached an unprecedented 250kW per oversize rack thanks to water cooling.

However, this kind of performance is not without its costs. Cold plates, manifolds, pumps, hoses, heat exchangers, couplings and other components add cost and take precious space within the compute nodes. Controlling the flow and mitigating the loss of coolant through this myriad of components within a node, rack or facility is an engineering challenge exacerbated by the number and variety of heat generating devices on a server and the requirement that each node be "hot swappable." One need only look inside one of these machines to see why liquid cooling has been relegated to the world of mainframes and supercomputers. The cost and complexity barriers, even in large scale production, are simply too high for much of the HPC industry to bear.

This article will discuss the use of evaporative immersion cooling, a long-practiced technique that is being revisited and practiced in a slightly different way. It is much simpler and potentially far less expensive than traditional liquid cooling approaches. It could enable node level power densities as high as 4 kW/liter with unprecedented thermal efficiency.

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