IBM licenses technology for water-cooled servers

IBM is licensing its technology for cooling servers with water instead of air to a US firm.


Panduit, a global networking and electrical manufacturer, will license IBM's Rear Door Heat eXchanger product, a five-inch deep cooling door to be mounted on the back of a conventional server rack in a data centre. 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 to air-cooled technology, said Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer for IBM's BladeCenter and System x server product lines.

The heat exchanger is part of IBM's CoolBlue portfolio of products to manage data centres more cost-effectively, reducing the heat generated by the increased processing power of servers and the increased number of servers crowded into data centres.

Data centre operators who use fans for cooling have been slow to embrace water cooling because "it's difficult to do water cooling inexpensively," Bradicich said.

But over the last 18 months, the growth of data centres running more and more industry-standard x-86 type servers "has been getting extremely out of hand," he said. 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.

Water cooling is getting a closer look from some IT administrators, but they still have some reservations about it, said Michael Bell, a Gartner analyst.

Water cooling can be initially more expensive to introduce into a data centre than air cooling, and IT managers worry about water systems leaking and causing damage, Bell said. Some are sticking their toe in the water-cooling pool cautiously, clustering their highest powered servers into one part of their data centers and introducing water-cooled technology only in that area.

But as data center electricity bills grow, "I think we'll see water usage coming more into play," he said, adding that it now costs data centers as much to cool a server as to power it.

IBM rival HP introduced a water-based cooling system for its high-density servers in January.

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