Liquid cooling at the Edge – the coming technology is already here
Wed 29 Apr 2020 | David Craig
Edge compute, one of the latest IT buzz words is finally becoming a reality in 2020. Companies across almost every vertical sector will begin the deployment of IT in the myriad of locations where data processing and access is required close to people and things.
In the telco sector, 5G rolls out built on cell towers, base stations and new street furniture will see appliances installed in non-ideal and often harsh environments. Use cases such as consumer-focused Internet of Things in retail, Smart Cities transportation projects for autonomous vehicles and Industrial IoT deployments in processing and manufacturing plants will see more and more servers deployed outside safe, environmentally controlled data centres.
These new Edge environments will not be uniform in nature but common to all will be the need to keep the IT equipment cool.
Technology in hostile environments
The disparate nature of Edge will present new challenges to supply side companies and their partners responsible for installing, operating and supporting Edge compute solutions.
Much new Edge IT is being built using industry standard technologies housed in small, non-IT dedicated ruggedized enclosures in often hostile locations.
IT equipment designed to live in clean rooms and controlled environments will be exposed to huge temperature variations, airborne contaminants, humidity and other factors such as the need for noise control. Power and water supply constraints are additional factors to consider.
These requirements cannot be met through traditional air cooling. Instead these distributed environments are ideally suited to the use of immersive liquid cooling solutions.
Liquid cooling technology has advanced to the point where it is a viable solution for demand and supply side players grappling with the commercial, logistical, support and sustainability imperatives for installation and maintenance of hundreds or thousands of servers.
Liquid cooling moves to the Edge
Liquid cooling of IT equipment has been used for decades in mainframe and other high-performance environments. What is new is the use of the immersive liquid cooling in distributed IT at the edge of the network where the separation of the server from the environment is a key advantage.
Edge uses are behind much of the projected market growth forecasts for liquid cooling solutions. To this end market projections point to immersion cooling market growth from US$177m in 2019 to US$501m by 2024, at a CAGR of 23.2% from 2019 to 2024.
How liquid lowers Edge operating costs
A key requirement of Edge computing roll outs will be low operating costs. In Edge deployments immersive liquid cooling is known to provide dramatic energy saving benefits.
Through the elimination of the need for air-cooling infrastructure such as fans, air channels and filters liquid cooling technologies promise reduction in energy and water consumption delivering significant cost savings. Liquid cooling uses 5 times less energy than air cooling with obvious environmental and cost benefits. In Chassis-level liquid cooling solutions all server fans are removed and precision delivery technologies using natural or forced convection are used to cool both bespoke and standard IT deployments. This delivers 1000 times the capacity to remove heat from electronics compared to the most efficient air-cooling solutions.
A key consideration is the maintenance and monitoring of multiple edge deployments. End user companies will not want to be exposed to the high maintenance costs associated with large teams of field engineers being dispatched to perform equipment servicing or to replace worn parts. With no moving parts immersive cooling technology removes the need for intrusive maintenance and its related downtime.
The reliability and no-touch features of liquid cooling solutions will match the needs for extended mean time to maintenance and longer intervention intervals needed for viable operation and management of remotely located equipment.
One historic concern related to immersive cooling was corrosion because of the use of natural oils. There are a number of companies that have addressed this through various alternative liquid cooling technology. Some processes isolate the power hungry and heat-generating processors and directly cool it, while others are 100% sealed to avoid contamination and offering cooling to all the electronics in server equipment using specially engineered dielectric fluid.
Another environmental factor is noise. Many deployments to support 5G are likely to be in densely populated locations where noise pollution is a concern. With immersive liquid cooling operating in total silence, operators and those close by can rest assured the noise will be at a non-disruptive minimum level.
Many Edges, a single solution
Like cloud before it, the Edge is not a single entity. But by addressing the cooling challenges presented by Edge through the use of liquid immersive technologies, operators may find they are solving more than a single problem.