Implementing Cooling Solutions into Existing Infrastructure

By Marc Caiola, Sr. Director of Global Data Solutions at nVent 

As data center managers know, demand for data is on the rise. Content streaming, online banking, cloud computing, sophisticated smartphone apps, eCommerce, edge computing and artificial intelligence are just a few examples of applications driving this demand. With increased demand comes increased pressure on data center operators to deliver better performance for their customers.  

Constant advancements in technology and connectivity drive new applications and an increased need to safeguard the world’s data and networks. Ensuring the continuous flow of information is essential. At the same time, increased energy costs and growing pressure on companies to reduce their carbon footprint have made energy efficiency more important than ever before. Therefore, it is critical that data center managers can implement high-powered equipment that meets the ever-changing needs of customers while minimizing energy consumption — both for cost and environmental reasons.   

A key part of this equation is how data centers approach cooling. Many legacy cooling systems in data centers and server rooms use air cooling systems that simply cannot keep up with new, high-powered equipment. As we prepare for a more sustainable and electrified future, here are three key considerations for data center managers thinking about liquid cooling:  

1: Increases Capacity While Maintaining Efficient Space & Energy Use 

Increased data center density to meet data demand is making air cooling less feasible for many operators. Densely packed server racks impede airflow, and air cooling cannot handle high heat loads efficiently. Data centers that try to cope by increasing air velocity can quickly become wind tunnel-like environments that are difficult to work in and expensive to operate. 

When air cooling systems need to work overtime to maintain necessary operating temperatures, facilities can also experience equipment failures, unplanned downtime and high energy costs. For many data centers, liquid cooling can offer better performance while saving energy and helping data centers operate more sustainably. 

Liquid cooling can help data centers increase capacity while maintaining efficient space and energy use. It can also offer a favorable return on investment and lower the total cost of ownership for data center facilities. Liquid cooling systems provide an effective solution for achieving the required temperature parameters and reducing the energy consumption of cooling systems. Liquid provides a much greater heat transfer capacity – 3,500 times higher than that of air – which helps liquid cooling dramatically increase power usage effectiveness (PUE), reducing energy costs and contributing to environmental sustainability.   

There are three primary types of liquid cooling:   

  • Indirect liquid-cooled: Heat is transferred to liquid through an air-to-water heat exchanger located within a row or cabinet.   
  • Direct liquid-cooled: Heat is transferred directly to an attached liquid-cooled heat transfer component, such as a cold plate or immersion cooling.  
  • Hybrid direct and indirect water-cooled: Selective cooling of the highest energy-consuming components with direct contact liquid cooling with the balance of the cabinet cooled via a secondary air-to-water cooling device. 

To determine which option is best for your specific data center, reach out to solutions providers who can share their expertise and help determine which solution best suits your individual needs.  

2 Prepare Operations for the Future & Power of Next-Gen IT Equipment 

As technology advances, IT equipment has grown to require more and more power — and more power typically means higher heat loads. Cooling this advanced equipment in an air-cooled data center requires facilities to deliver more air through server racks. The energy efficiency problem brought on by advanced IT equipment compounds itself: chips require more power and generate more heat that requires additional power put towards cooling.  

Data center managers and IT professionals know they need to continue to chase performance for their customers. To take advantage of the better performance, new business cases, and new types of workloads that next-generation technology enables, data center managers need to maximize cooling performance. In many situations, data centers have crossed a line where cooling high-powered equipment with air cooling is simply no longer feasible.  

Many new IT and chip technologies are now being designed with liquid cooling in mind. Data centers that only deploy air cooling may struggle to meet the demands of their customers in the future as they seek improved performance and next-generation IT equipment.  

3 Liquid Cooling Technology Enables Many Different Cooling Approaches 

Liquid-to-liquid cooling, where liquid lines cool both chips and racks, is extremely effective but requires liquid lines, valves and connections for every rack position throughout a facility. The upfront investment can seem daunting, but it is likely to pay off in the long term because of increased performance, capacity, future-readiness and energy efficiency.   

However, there is an alternative path that allows data center managers to bring the high performance of liquid cooling into data centers that only have air-cooling infrastructure at the facility level: liquid-to-air cooling.  

Liquid-to-air cooling can help data centers cool IT equipment more effectively while taking advantage of existing air-cooling infrastructure. Data center managers can implement liquid-to-air cooling systems as an extension to existing infrastructure. This cooling methodology uses liquid cooling technology to ease the burden placed on air coolers by bringing liquid cooling to the rack and server level while operating within an air-cooled infrastructure.  This approach may often be deployed more quickly, and with a lower investment than deploying a complete facility-level liquid-to-liquid cooling architecture.   

In liquid-to-air cooling, servers and chips are cooled by either direct contact liquid or immersion liquid cooling.  Liquid-to-air cooling solutions can include rack-level (such as a rear door) or row-level heat exchanger configurations. The liquid is circulated through liquid-cooled servers, and the heat is radiated from the liquid through an external heat exchanger to the room.  The room air-cooling infrastructure is utilized to remove the ambient heat and maintain desired room-level temperature.  

These kinds of solutions might be an ideal fit for data centers managers that are not able to mitigate the cost and potential downtime of a full retrofitting project.  As the world becomes more sustainable and electrified, investments in new IT technology and next-generation equipment will only increase. Whether it is a full retrofit or implementing hybrid technologies, the time to consider the benefits of liquid cooling is now.  

About the Author

Marc Caiola is the Sr. Director of Global Data Solutions at nVent.  Marc has over 30 years of technology and business leadership experience in Defense and ICT-Data and Communications Industries.  Prior to joining nVent in 2018, Marc served in various marketing leadership roles within the Enclosures Strategic Business Unit at Pentair from 2007, and various leadership roles at Greco Systems, All Optical Networks and Comp Optics from 1996-2007.  Marc served for 10 years in the United States Navy before entering the private sector in 1996.  Marc holds electronics and computer science diplomas from the Chester County Technical College and United States Naval Training Center, a B.S. Business/Marketing from the University of Phoenix, and he completed executive development coursework from the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management.