Data Centers

IBM unveils water-cooled servers to reduce carbon by 85%

IBM researchers have delivered a data center breakthrough that could have a major impact on power consumption, carbon footprint, and even the way companies cool and heat their offices.

IBM researchers have delivered a breakthrough that could have a major impact on the power consumption and carbon footprint of data centers, and even the way companies heat their offices.

The project, called Aquasar, is a water-cooled supercomputer that consumes 40% less energy than a comparable system using today's air-conditioned methods. Plus, the system takes the waste heat that it pulls from the servers and feeds it into the building's heating system to help warm nearby offices. When you combine these two developments, the result is a carbon footprint that is reduced by up to 85%.

The diagram below shows how Aquasar works:

Announced a year ago, the project is now fully operational using special water-cooled IBM BladeCenter Servers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich). The work itself is part of a three-year collaboration between scientists and engineers from IBM and ETH Zurich. The official name of the study is "Direct use of waste heat from liquid-cooled supercomputers: the path to energy saving, emission-high performance computers and data centers."

There is no commercial product that IBM is marketing with Aquasar yet, but we should reasonably expect the company to integrate this development into its data center portfolio in the years ahead.

Dr. Bruno Michel, manager of Advanced Thermal Packaging at IBM Research-Zurich, said, "With Aquasar we achieved an important milestone on the way to CO2-neutral data centers. The next step in our research is to focus on the performance and characteristics of the cooling system which will be measured with an extensive system of sensors, in order to optimize it further."

Prof. Dimos Poulikakos, head of the Laboratory of Thermodynamics in New Technologies at ETH Zurich, said, "With Aquasar, we make an important contribution to the development of sustainable high performance computers and computer system. In the future it will be important to measure how efficiently a computer is per watt and per gram of equivalent CO2 production."

Here's a quick 2-minute video clip that further explains and demonstrates the Aquasar breakthrough:

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About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

70 comments
marc
marc

Google already has a patent for a water based data center that would be powered by wave power and just imagine using the entire ocean to cool your server room. I think this could count as negative carbon foot print for sure. http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220080209234%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20080209234&RS=DN/20080209234 (Based on more recent information Google killed this project already but I think its worth honorable mention as a hare brained idea.)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

At least my computers see a lot more glitches and BSODs when it's hot. If the cooling is more thoroughly thought out than normal server room AC, then there could be other benefits than savings.

wgd
wgd

Several others have mentioned that IBM, NEC, etc. etc. used to do this Back In The Day, anyway. But Cray made an artform out of it, complete with waterfalls and so forth. I do some work for a little software company that can't afford a "real" machine room -- so the server closet they have makes a *great* office warmer in the winter! :)

djones
djones

IBM breakthrough technology that uses water to cool?? Really? Cause I think they have been using water to cool things for quite a while. Heck even PC water cooling systems are old news.

Altotus
Altotus

From the ground up to services provided. Fundamental changes in economy. That 85% figure is misleading the savings are actually more. This is important. It will take years but the die is cast now hopefully no one ignores the real importance that is energy recycling is a 100% return if energy is not converted. Fundamental Important Simple so apply it! Think of it like impedance matching only thermal level matching ok? Any questions?

warpuck
warpuck

Navy ships have been using direct chilled water cooling for CPUs for 30 years. Unless you are on a Blue-nose cruise reusing waste heat is most definately not needed for compartment heating.

browjo
browjo

Main Frames were watercooled in 80's 90's

wlportwashington
wlportwashington

When Grumman Aircraft used to be here, they had 2 IBM 360's mainframes running 24/7/365. They pumped the heat out of the computers and used that to heat other sections of the plant. Only difference here is that now they are using water instead of pumping out the warm air.

alibear
alibear

In the 70s I was at Manchester Uni and the Maths Tower and Computer Science block were heated from the output from the hulks in the basement. Maybe they still are...

Slayer_
Slayer_

So first they are saying that a Fan produces a larger carbon footprint than a water pump? I am pretty sure you can get a better power savings by using high efficiency power supplies in your servers. And let's not forget that computers HAVE NO CARBON FOOTPRINT. They do not burn fuel. They simply move voltages around. So if we are purely talking power, then its the power plants carbon footprint, not yours. Though I can see a plus side, it can be -30C outside, and if the office is cold, you can blame your workers as proof that they aren't working hard enough. (Do more work and the room will be warmer)

klamb8153
klamb8153

IBM has used water cooling in the past for it's mainframes and such. The interesting part of this is the use of the hot water for the facilities. Point of fact is that most buildings in California do not have heaters only air conditioners. So I am unsure of how the heat from the water cooling would be used ?

DittoHeadStL
DittoHeadStL

I started at McDonnell Douglas in 1981. At that time, their automation campus was loaded with IBM and (I think...) Burroughs computers. They collected the heat generated by those machines and used it to heat the office space in a 5-building campus.

gmarc
gmarc

Hmm... Gee have we not seen this before??

gnkallen
gnkallen

What's the big deal. When I entered computing in 1964, all mainframe computers (aka servers) were water cooled! (and the Operating system BPS was on a deck of puched cards, which were fed into the core (RAM to you youngsters)prior to every job). Happy days. Geoff Allen

Eoghan
Eoghan

Ho-Hum. IBM used water cooling for mainframes in the 1960s and 1970s. Sorry you young pups don't remember, but I do.

govemp10
govemp10

What's old is new again ( and "green" ) IBM mainframes were water cooled in the 1970's !!

treygigahertz
treygigahertz

We had water cooled computers (and most of the peripherals) back in 1978 in the US Navy. So what's so new? Water to the heat sink? That's done already too. Pardon me while a yawn at this major breakthrough.

QAonCall
QAonCall

water cooled would be the design perfection system. As with cars, most of them use little water. I would expect a more efficient coolant to be developed by a DuPont or some other company. The water would need maintenance etc that could be eliminated almost entirely by some other refrigerant. Further, the energy savings and maintainability would be higher. My guess anyways.

Slayer_
Slayer_

If your average outdoor temps are 10-20C this might work, but for anything else its useless. The 5 watts of electricity you save on fans does not cover the 200 watt pump + the furnace needed to heat the office.

Altotus
Altotus

Those guys are waisting money.

Altotus
Altotus

Fundamental economics of operating the system obsoletes anyone not using this system. EVERYONE

DJMorais
DJMorais

This is just a variation of an old theme. The only thing new about it is the metodology perhaps. What they don't tell you about is the cost associated with implementing this "new" technology. Can you imagine what it wil take to retro-fit a building to accept this setup? In the end, the system will need extra maintenance, will eventually fail and destroy valuable components or office space. Just more fluff from the "Green Scammers". Increasing efficiencies in computing systems will be the ultimate solution, and honestly there is only so much you can do. Make the machine consume less power, have less moving parts that will produce less heat and so on.

Altotus
Altotus

Look at whole systems not elements and electric is carbon. So yes they do have carbon footprint.

Altotus
Altotus

They do burn fuel electric is produced by burning coal.

markpenny
markpenny

If the server hardware just moved voltages around then they would not get hot. The bulk of the power consumed by the equipment ends up as heat that has to be removed to avoid the system melting. Whilst using the equipment does not directly emit CO2, the results of using that carbon-based power are the responsibiility of the user. Even if you do not believe the CO2 emmisions are a problem, it is in everyones interest to reduce power consumption as it is a significant cost to the business.

fozzy215
fozzy215

I worked on those systems too but they had massive, energy-inefficient chillers. This operates at 60C.

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess

Well said and I am not a young pup. Honeywell did the very same thing during the 70's and 80's, with the NEC supercomputer systems using a heat conductive powder in addtion to water/glycol cooling. Some of these people that report on this material should conduct a bit of research. In fact, unless IBM has purchased the patent rights to cooling the CPU chip, they might be infringing on the NEC patents... wait for a law suite.

Altotus
Altotus

Its the freaking application this is worth 5% of the national electric production.

Jaqui
Jaqui

it's called freon and when that leaks from the system it destroys the ozone layer. water at least is neutral as far as damage done environmentally from spills. now, if they were to juice it up with liquid hydrogen then they would have real cooling power. :D and even that has been done.

ciscodaze
ciscodaze

Am I the only one sick and tired of the high tech compananies kowtowing to the PC crowd by framing everthing they do within the phoney baloney environmentalism cliche lexicography. I wish I owned a high tech company so I could tell them to shove off and come back when they have real evidence for there fake science, and their desire to control everything from natural resources, to global energy production to high tech development. One more article with the works "carbon" "footprint" or "global warming" and Im gonna bash my head against the wall.

Slayer_
Slayer_

The carbon footprint created by the manufacturing process to build the pipes, the chemicals needed to make the coolant, the machinery needed to install this, and the factory that made the pumps... greatly exceeds the carbon footprint created by using a traditional cooling system.

eclypse
eclypse

there are hydroelectric plants and nuclear plants

Slayer_
Slayer_

I remember reading that a perfect light bulb produces no heat.

biton.walstra
biton.walstra

indeed, i still know the water leakage of the mini computer we used that time. :)

QAonCall
QAonCall

Freon is one type of refrigerant. There are many (as water is one). Liquid/chemical coolants are abundant, easy to control and virtually recyclable. Their cooling properties are immensely more efficient than just water. Additionally, the failure of a water based system, with no backup is much more likely with no chemical involved, as water is more volatile to temperature change than things like dextrol etc. Example information here, and all over the place. http://www.arrowheadradiator.com/coolant_&_radiator_service.htm While I am sure you post was meant to be informative, it appears to be pretty native and flaming a non-issue. R12 refrigerant was discontinued in lieu of a chlorine free version that does not deplete the ozone (not that any part of my discussion would even have relevance to that). But all education and enlightenment is good! http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/refrigerants-properties-d_145.html BTW, I am NOT pc, but if I can save clients money in some places, that usually comes back in the form of additional consulting work! ;)

pizza7
pizza7

I am tired of this junk science and "carbon neutral". There is no common sense anymore. That's why we have toilets don't don't have much capacity anymore. CO2 is not a pollutant nor is it a dangerous gas. All concocted by scientists for political reasons and they got caught lying to us and falsyfing information. Just sad !

Altotus
Altotus

One stroke 5% of the national electric production offset. Look the cost factors up and tell me what that means in $$$.

brendan
brendan

Talking about a carbon footprint isn't just a fad, it's something with real business ramifications. First of all, it's about efficiency, about a short term investment that should reduce long term costs. Second it's a hedge against future price spikes - Due to Carbon taxes, Price Gouging, or something wrecking a key pipeline or refinery. Oh and as far as your complaints about Global Warming, the proper term is Climate Change. And for all the argument about how much the CO2 level is influencing the rising average temperatures, it's pretty clear that it's a significant factor.

monicabower
monicabower

Unfortunately if your press release isn't loaded with buzzwords, be they tech or environmental, chances are it won't get picked up by the media. Personally I'm surprised they didn't manage to cram in the cloud, virtualization or high availability; but then they're IBM, so they don't have to work at getting the spotlight quite as hard as others.

bclomptwihm
bclomptwihm

Enough of the Marxists who hijacked the Environmental Movement after the fall of the Soviet Union BTW this water cooling concept comes up every decade or so. It always goes away because water pipes always leak. And always destroy the electical compnents they are meant to cool.

Bamaro
Bamaro

Whats wrong with saving energy and calling it what it is?

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

Your rant would have garnered a more potent impact if not for the spelling and grammar errors. Having said that; carbon, footprint, and global warming. Now don't disappoint me...

Slayer_
Slayer_

So very little carbon footprint. But I still say a high efficiency power supply will give you a smaller carbon footprint, then piping your heat around the room.

eclypse
eclypse

Wow, I'm glad you're so informed about climate change. Too bad you have no sense of humour to go along with your informed-ness. =) Besides, what "facts" should I freshen up on? Global warming is not a "fact" it is a religion. Just look at how anyone who disagrees with it is treated. Now that the whole global warming hoax has been identified as such, the practitioners of the religion have just changed the name to "climate change" so they can go on extorting money out of people who work for a living and making normal people feel bad/guilty for living their lives. I guess if you buy into the religion, that's your prerogative, but I don't. Besides, climate change will just allow them to use one phrase from now on instead of having to switch from "global cooling" back to "global warming" and back to... ad infinitum.

Bamaro
Bamaro

That is one of the most naive and uninformed posts I've seen in awhile. No sense argueing here until you freshen up on the facts. And equating climate change to the change of the seasons is beyond comprehention.

Altotus
Altotus

You have confused marketing with green. Environmentalism is not marketing. Politics use marketing for you vote so the truth is out there and good riddance and don't forget to vote. Good environmentalism should cost less not more. This is difficult sometimes because constraints placed on solutions can increase costs.

eclypse
eclypse

The whole notion of carbon footprint is stupid - and it's a fad. There is also no global warming. And yes, there is climate change - it happens all throughout the year - I believe you call them "seasons". As far as efficiency - that's fine because more efficient servers can save money on electricity usage and that's a good thing - as long as you don't get inferior performing equipment. I just think it's dumb that people think they're saving the planet with all this green nonsense. The planet isn't in danger, it doesn't need saving, and none of this crap would make any difference anyway if it actually were in danger. What _is_ funny is to watch these greenie-weenies try to out-green each other. That's good entertainment.

eclypse
eclypse

Glad you are here to rescue us before we fall off the edge of the flat earth or we would all be doomed!!!

Toadvark
Toadvark

I just love it when the flat-earthers join the discussion and start spewing their venom because they have nothing intelligent to add.

ciscodaze
ciscodaze

Monica, of course you are right. Its just that this trend is ubiquitous in the marketing field (whether they are actively pushing the ideology of the marxist envirnonmentalists on not) and the more we frame everything we do in their language the more power and legitimacy we hand them. Oh, and Mr. smarty pants (did I spell that right?) - when you are ready to graduate from your helpdesk job, don't expect there to BE any GREEN jobs for you...because there won't be ANY jobs once the Obamanation of Desolation is done destroying this country. Come back in 10 years smarty, and we'll see what you think then. This is a deadly serious moment in our country and revolutions are directed by those who control the language. Think Goebbels. Unfortunatly I think the "millenials" working in the PR depts. of these companies actually believe the drivel that they write. Anyone who has graduated from college in the past 20 years is, by default, (and generally speaking) a Socialist, not a Constitutionalist. Concerned about the future of I.T. and YOUR job in the future? Defeat the radical Marxist in 2012. Theres a corporate strategy for ya.

Altotus
Altotus

DUH figure you numbers you problem is not a problem at all.

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