Will IT Managers Warm to Liquid-Cooled Servers?

A recent effort from startups is under way to move liquid cooling from the computer enthusiast realm into the commercial data center industry. What’s the lure? Big energy savings. But is that enough to get IT managers to roll up their sleeves and get their hands wet?

A couple of weeks ago, Sheffield, UK-based Iceotope showed off a liquid-cooled server system at the Supercomputing 2009 show. Iceotope says its technology can cut data center cooling costs by a whopping 93 percent by dropping servers into an electronics-friendly liquid. And, as it turns out, it’s not the only liquid cooling startup in town.

National Science Foundation grant recipient Green Revolution Cooling (PDF) also submerges servers in an inert liquid (mineral oil), albeit in a different manner. Instead of Iceotope’s server blade-inspired setup, Green Revolution Cooling’s servers slide vertically into the company’s enclosure. Their approaches differ, but both companies promise huge energy savings — so large, in fact, that transitioning to their systems can cut energy costs for some data center operators by six figures.

It’s a compelling prospect, but the two companies have the tough job of changing the mindsets of CIOs and IT managers. One aspect of both systems that is sure to give IT planners pause is the added customization required to prepare servers for liquid submersion. As Christiaan Best, the co-president of Green Revolution Cooling, describes in this YouTube video, fans and optical drives are removed and hard drives must be sealed. The gear also needs specialized heatsinks, pumps and new maintenance procedures. That means that the wet architecture diverges wildly from the “rack ’em and stack ’em” approach which has kept IT managers gainfully employed all these years.

Resistance to change isn’t the only impediment to success. Iceotope and Green Revolution Cooling are bucking a hardware ecosystem governed by air-cooled product design principals. And, like I mentioned in this article at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), it’s an ecosystem that can pose serious challenges for startups aiming for a slice of data center-sized budgets.

Image courtesy of clayirving’s Flickr feed Creative Commons.