Immersion vs. Liquid Cooling in Advanced Data Centres

Today’s data centres demand more processing power than ever. More and more computers are packed into tighter spaces, causing the hardware to consume more energy and give off massive amounts of heat. This is especially the case in the cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, and tech industries. In the past, liquid cooling could bring servers to ideal temperatures in most environments. Now, innovations like immersion cooling are helping high-density data centres become even more efficient, reduce energy consumption, and minimize costs. Let’s explore the differences between liquid cooling and immersion cooling and what the best solution is for your business.

What is direct liquid cooling?

Liquid cooling involves circulating coolants in tubes to reduce the temperature of hardware components. Water blocks, radiators, and fans help move the liquid around. In many cases, the coolant travels to chips to absorb heat from there. Referred to as “direct-to-chip liquid cooling”, this is considered one of the most efficient forms of liquid cooling. 

Liquid cooling has long been an effective method for small and medium data centres. It’s typically meant for environments that need 10 to 15kW (kilowatts) of power per rack. However, today’s large data centres can require over 100kW per rack. Considering these power density needs, liquid cooling doesn’t meet the demands of crypto mining and artificial intelligence operations. Plus, if you’re operating in hot climates like the southern United States or the Middle East, your heat concerns are even higher.

Direct liquid cooling pros

  • Easy to install: You can add liquid cooling to most computing systems without retrofitting or modifying much of the hardware.
  • Cost-effective: Because there are fewer components than in immersion cooling, liquid cooling is a less expensive alternative.
  • Less space required: You can store server racks vertically rather than horizontally in immersion cooling.

Liquid cooling cons

  • Meant for lower density operations: Liquid cooling can’t carry as high of power loads as immersion cooling can.
  • Only cools certain components: Rather than submerging the entire system, liquid cooling delivers coolants directly to chips and hardware, reducing its capacity.

What is immersion cooling?

Immersion cooling is exactly what it sounds like: It involves submerging computing hardware in coolant to remove heat and improve its efficiency. Rather than delivering liquid or air to cool components, the entire system is immersed in non-conductive dielectric fluids. Fans and pumps circulate the liquid to a heat exchange that reduces the temperature. After that, the system pumps the cool liquid back into the immersion tanks.

Depending on the design, immersion cooling can operate as a single-phase or two-phase solution. Single-phase immersion cooling only involves exchanging liquid, while two-phase immersion cooling involves converting the liquid into gas.

Because it’s a relatively new technology, immersion cooling has not been adopted or tested in all data centres. It also involves a hefty investment in equipment, such as tanks, chillers, pumps, sensors, piping, and power modules. To take the plunge in immersion cooling, your data operation has to be all in.

However, that’s about to change: The immersion cooling industry is expected to grow to $1.01B USD in 2030. With the technology’s impressive energy and cost-saving opportunities, many large data centres are growing wise to its benefits.

Immersion cooling pros

  • Best efficiency of all cooling methods: Drop your Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) to 1.02 and achieve up to 95% efficiency with a solution like our Intelliflex™ system.
  • Boosts profits: Because immersion cooling reduces your energy consumption at such a significant rate, you’ll enjoy much lower operating costs and higher profits.
  • Easy to maintain: The server racks are placed at waist height, allowing technicians to work with the hardware more effortlessly.
  • Increases hardware lifespan: Dust, air pollutants, and other particles can’t get into the system and cause it to malfunction. The liquid also reduces the thermal and mechanical stress on your hardware.
  • Good for the environment: The crypto mining industry is estimated to produce 22 and 22.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year. (That’s more than the country of Sri Lanka!) Immersion cooling helps you become an environmental leader and reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Less noise: Immersion cooling requires very few fans, resulting in a near-silent operation. This makes working in your data centre safer and helps staff communicate more easily.

Immersion cooling cons

  • Upfront investment costs: Although immersion cooling saves you on operating costs, there is a high installation cost associated with it. Be sure to work with a professional to calculate these expenses and determine if it’s worth the financial investment.
  • Complex design: Immersion cooling requires many parts and components, so it’s best to work with a professional to create a system that meets your operational requirements.

Is immersion cooling more efficient than liquid cooling?

When you compare the two methods, immersion cooling outpowers direct liquid cooling. Although direct liquid cooling works great for small and medium data centres, immersion cooling allows you to achieve the energy efficiency needed to run a large-scale data centre. 

Sustainability is a top concern for companies that require intensive data resources. Those who stay ahead of the competition and take strategic steps to reduce their carbon emissions will come out on top. Immersion cooling allows you to reduce your electricity consumption at a much larger scale than direct liquid cooling.

You’ll also see a greater return on investment with immersion cooling. Its power load capabilities are far higher, which means you’ll reduce your operating costs and improve your profitability at an impressive rate.

Is immersion cooling the future of advanced data centres?

Immersion cooling is an emerging I.T. technology that will only continue to grow. As data centres demand huge amounts of computing power, new advancements need to arise to keep businesses running efficiently. For this change to take off, immersion cooling technology will need to be purpose-built into computing designs. This will allow companies to seamlessly integrate the cooling method into their systems.

When you partner with a start-to-finish service provider like CES Corporation, we take care of the set-up challenges for you. We work with you to design your immersion cooling solution to your exact needs. After that, we can ship a full module to you anywhere in the world. This minimizes the complexity of installation and allows you to launch your system as quickly as possible. Contact us today to start planning your project.