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Making liquid cooling a more predictable investment

Wed 10 Feb 2021 | Mark Fenton

Future Facilities’ Mark Fenton says liquid cooling and digital twins are the perfect pair

The trouble many businesses have with environmental goals is that they can be hard to reconcile against more immediate priorities. No organisation sets out with the goal to bring harm to the environment, and yet most still rely on technologies and processes that are at odds with long term sustainability. So any approach that seamlessly presents the business case and the moral case side-by-side must surely be worth a look?

Of course, attention has been drawn elsewhere of late, and sadly only one phenomenon will be remembered as having defined the year 2020 (and potentially 2021). But the COVID-19 pandemic was not the sole factor influencing private and public sector thinking.

Whether looking at the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, or the recently inaugurated President’s ‘Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice’, momentum is building towards the long-hoped-for sustainable future.

So as organisations regain something of a commercial rhythm, sustainability can move back up the agenda…

Economics and environment aligned

Clearly the need remains for a range of silver bullets of design that can align both commercial and CSR requirements. The solution may not however lie in a future set of technologies, but instead by being smarter in the way we use what is already available to us. One example where this occurs is in the pairing of liquid cooling with the adoption of a Digital Twin.

The pitch is this: combining liquid cooling with a Digital Twin can directly support sustainability goals while improving data centre capacity and reducing operating costs.

But for the uninitiated, what are these two technologies?

Liquid cooling

Liquid cooling rising star of the data centre world. ‘Rising’ because it is well established conceptually, but not widely adopted, and today it is often deployed alongside its more widely used counterpart – air cooling.

That looks set to change in 2021. As high-density systems – such as high-performance computing (HPC) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – continue to play a critical role in the enterprise compute mix, deficiencies of using air for cooling this type of system have been shown up.

Cooling high-powered chips demand a lot of air be moved through constrained spaces, which in turn isn’t all that energy efficient. Liquid cooling is an ideal choice to successfully combat this. The improved heat capacity and transfer provided by liquids is highly effective at lowering the high temperatures caused by CPUs and GPUs.

Additionally, the waste heat from air cooling often cannot be used productively as part of a wider sustainability agenda, whereas with liquid cooling the energy is more readily reused.

The data centre Digital Twin

The Digital Twin is an approach to simulation that unlocks many of the otherwise unseen or underutilised management capabilities within the data centre. A 3D, virtual replica of a specific facility, it simulates the physical behaviour of the data centre under any operating scenario. This puts vastly more control in the hands of the IT and Facilities teams responsible for the data centre.

Through advanced computational fluid dynamics, the replica allows designers and operators to plan and predict with much greater accuracy – testing multiple scenarios in a safe environment, ahead of real-world deployments. The predictive capabilities this simulation provides helps decision-makers to tease out improved capacity and energy efficiency, all while actually reducing risk.

The most sustainable outcome is predictable

As with any significant change programme within the data centre, there is capital expenditure and a set of operational realities related to liquid cooling that need to be considered. And yet despite the short term investment required, liquid cooling delivers three clear points of value:

  1. It does cut operational costs over the long-term thanks to the significant improvement in energy efficiency and the ability to better-use accelerator processors. This can help to reduce cost and waste by deferring the need to invest in new infrastructure
  2. It supports the corporate sustainability agenda, which aside from a clear environmental benefit will ultimately also have a commercial reality as regulations continue to move against polluters
  3. It improves HPC and AI environments in terms of efficiency and reliability of cooling, which in turn has the potential for improved performance. MarketsandMarkets has shown that HPC will grow by $11.6 billion between 2020 and 2025, meaning the demand for liquid cooling is likely to be significant

Making the most of liquid cooling

As part of any business case for the adoption of liquid cooling, firms will therefore want to maximise the above benefits – showing a clear financial and environmental return from the technology. This can be done by using a Digital Twin to optimise the deployment of liquid cooling, calculating how it will perform within the context of existing air-cooled infrastructure, or simulating a replacement of existing systems.

And as the data centre in which it is implemented continues to evolve, the Digital Twin ensures the liquid cooling system delivers maximum value. If new servers are required, or racks need reconfiguring, the Digital Twin will ensure the room remains within safe temperature parameters. It will help ensure compute systems can operate to their full potential without falling over as a result of overheating. Critically, it can do all of this while defending your sustainability commitments and providing the proof of your success.

Experts featured:

Mark Fenton

Product Manger
Future Facilities


digital twins liquid cooling
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