IBM looks to water cooling

IBM is looking to expand the use of water-cooling systems in data centres.

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IBM is looking to expand the use of water-cooling systems in data centres.

IBM researchers are counting on a 40 year-old technology to keep modern, state-of-the-art data centres running and allow companies to squeeze more computing power from the electricity they consume.

The power consumed by a rack of servers has risen from around 5 kilowatts (kW) of power per server rack five years ago to as much as 30 kW today, thanks to the introduction of more powerful processors and denser blade servers. And the power-consumption levels will continue rising in the years ahead.

"People want more compute power and we can give it to them because we can package this into a smaller footprint, basically," said Roger Schmidt, chief thermal architect and distinguished engineer at IBM's Server and Workstation Division.

The challenge that Schmidt and his colleagues face is how to dissipate the increasing levels of heat these systems generate. At the data-centre level, Schmidt sees an expanded role for water cooling as a means to bring heat levels down.

Water cooling, which uses small pipes filled with distilled or de-ionized water to dissipate heat, was first used by IBM to cool mainframe computers during the 1960s. The technology, which was used in more than 90% of mainframes by the mid-1980s, was given a second lease on life in 2005, when IBM introduced its line of Cool Blue water-cooling products.

One such product is IBM's $4,299 (£2,193) Rear Door Heat eXchanger, which attaches to the rear of a server rack. Four inches thick and weighing about 70 pounds when filled with water, the eXchanger can absorb more than half of the heat coming from a server rack, according to IBM.

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