Intel is planning an immersion lab to cool its power-hungry chips

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Intel this week unveiled a $700 million sustainability initiative to try innovative liquid and immersion cooling technologies in the data center.

The project will see Intel build a 200,000 square foot “mega lab” about 20 miles west of Portland at its Hillsboro campus, where the chipmaker will qualify, test and demonstrate its data center portfolio. expansive and power-hungry using a variety of cooling technology.

Along with the lab, the x86 giant unveiled an open reference design for immersion cooling systems for its chips which is being developed by Intel Taiwan. The chip giant hopes to bring other Taiwanese manufacturers into the fold and it will then roll out globally.

As the name suggests, immersion cooling involves immersing components in a bath of non-conductive fluid – mineral oil and some specialty coolants being two of the most common – instead of using heat sinks or plates cold to keep the heat away from the fleas. Intel says its innovative ideas on this established technology could reduce data center carbon emissions by 45%.

This is a big step forward for data center sustainability, said Dell’Oro Group analyst Lucas Beran. The register.

Although individual components and servers consume a substantial amount of power, cooling them accounts for more than 40% of a data center’s power consumption, he explained. “Simply reducing power consumption is a very big part of what liquid cooling and, more specifically, immersion cooling brings to the table.”

Beyond the limitation of energy consumption, these technologies offer several additional advantages. One is a substantial reduction in water usage, while another is that liquid cooling is simply better than air at removing heat, and can even be repurposed for things like district heating, Beran said.

Bytesnet, for example, recently announced its intention to recycle the heat generated by its data centers to heat thousands of homes in the Groningen district of the Netherlands.

Balance of power, performance and warmth

One of the driving forces behind Intel’s latest data center sustainability efforts is the trend towards ever-higher power consumption by processors, GPUs, and upcoming AI accelerators.

In recent years, the thermal design power (TDP) driven by many of these chips has more than doubled. Today, modern CPU architectures push 300W, while GPUs and AI chips from Intel, AMD, and Nvidia now suck 600W or more.

As these systems proliferate and find their way into consumer data centers, liquid or immersion cooling will become inevitable, not only to keep these systems from overheating, but to compensate for their exponential power consumption, explained Bern.

He highlighted a data center that adopted immersion cooling not because it was thermally bound, but because it allowed him to reallocate much of the power used to cool systems at a density of additional calculation. And that’s how Beran expects most data center operators to approach immersion cooling in the near future.

“If you go from a traditional rack air cooling system to an immersion cooling system, you might just use less power,” he said. But “I don’t see too many examples where people are saying…” We have enough computation, we’re just trying to cool it more efficiently. “”

More often than not, operators struggle to get enough power into the rack, Beran added.

Can Intel Drive Adoption?

While immersion cooling isn’t new, Beran says Intel’s involvement in developing an open reference design is still notable.

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Cool brother building. Click to enlarge

“They play a very important role in the development of technologies compatible with immersion cooling,” he said. “This has the potential to have a huge impact because they can influence server OEMs, like Dell or HPE, in terms of how they sell their products and what kind of cooling infrastructure is needed to support those products. “

“Now they’re designing products that will be born in liquids and born in immersion cooling,” Beran added.

This is important because liquid and immersion cooling require completely different form factors than those used in air-cooled data centers today. This ignorance remains one of the greatest inhibitors of technology.

The unknown is scary, and many data center operators don’t yet have a playbook on how to deal with the various issues that can arise in liquid-cooled and immersion-cooled hardware. One of the most common concerns, Beran said, is associated with technology is weight distribution, though that’s rarely an issue.

“A big facility like this, a big playground if you will, where you can go and see this infrastructure first-hand, dip your toes in the fluid so to speak, understand how these systems work in a center-like environment of data, has enormous value to the industry,” he said of the Intel Lab. ®

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