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Transitioning towards liquid cooling for data centers

Air-cooling has always been the mainstream operational approach for cooling IT equipment in data centers. However, rack power densities are getting higher and higher, especially in AI applications and advanced analytics, easily exceeding 20 kW, 30 kW or more per rack. This results in increased energy consumption and thus more heat generation, to the point that air cooling cannot perform properly or becomes too complicated and costly to maintain. That is why organizations are looking into liquid cooling, a solution that until today has been limited mainly to the world’s fastest supercomputers and a lot of bitcoin mining rigs, where chips need to run at high clock rates.
Anyway, today the choice among the existing different air- and liquid- cooling technologies is not straightforward, and need to be carefully evaluated considering many factors and respective benefits and downsides. These would be related mainly to investment and operating costs, ease of installation and maintenance, reliability and safety, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability, and location and space availability.
Concerning sustainability, in a world where pressure toward a greener economy is increasing, liquid cooling might become a fundamental option to minimize the environmental impact of data centers. This is because this technology uses less electricity and water than many air cooling systems, as water and other liquids allow far more efficient heat transfer than air. In the case of immersed liquid solutions, the data center embodied footprint can also be significantly reduced, as this technology cuts excess material, such as the metal chassis around motherboards.
Liquid cooling also allows for denser workloads and data volumes and more compact systems, enabling space reduction and thus potentially being the only viable effective solution for micro data centers and edge computing.

To know more about the different air- and liquid- cooling technologies in data centers, and their respective advantages and disadvantages, have a look at the article by Robert Sheldon on

Some alternatives to traditional data center liquid cooling approaches.
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