Dell Brings Water-Cooling System to Hyperscale Data Centers

Thursday Jun 2nd 2016 by Jeffrey Burt
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The company is collaborating with Intel to develop the Triton solution, which is aimed at scale-out data center environments.

AUSTIN, Texas—Dell engineers have been working with Intel and online auction site eBay for the past six years to develop a custom system that uses water to cool servers in hyperscale data centers. Now the tech vendor is ready to unveil the water-cooling system to the industry.

Dell officials on June 2 introduced the system—code-named "Triton"—created by the company's Extreme Scale Infrastructure (ESI) unit, which had been using it as a proof-of-concept for eBay. The ESI group is targeting the new technology at hyperscale and near-hyperscale environments, where power efficiency and CPU performance both are critical metrics.

Dell isn't the first server vendor to propose using water or other liquids as alternatives to air to cool data center systems. Water can transport heat 25 times more efficiently than air. However, officials said the combination of Dell's unique design and Intel's customized 200-watt Xeon E5 v4 processor can help drive significant performance and efficiency gains. The cooling system enables the processor to run at higher frequencies, providing performance gains of up to 59 percent over the widely used Xeon E5-2680 v4 at similar costs, and offers 70 percent better performance-per-dollar than air-cooled systems, they said.

Combining the Triton system with the customized Xeon processor can deliver double-digit performance increases over the highest-performing Xeon chips on the market, officials said.

"We started work on Triton five to six years ago," Austin Shelnutt, principal thermal architect for Dell's Data Center Solutions (DCS) unit, told journalists and analysts during the vendor's Enterprise Innovation Days event. He noted the company has "already put Triton into different platforms."

eBay officials said Triton has improved the performance of the company's search servers.

"We worked closely with Dell to develop a customized server solution which utilizes an innovative approach of liquid cooling 200W CPUs to deliver large performance and efficiency gains," Nick Whyte, vice president and fellow for search technology at eBay, said in a statement, adding the collaboration with Dell and Intel has enabled the company's search servers to achieve "an increase of 70 percent in throughput (QPS—queries per second) with the Intel Xeon processor E5-2679 v4 versus the previous generation Intel Xeon processor E5-2680 v3 in the Triton proof-of-concept."

Triton is the latest technology to come out of Dell's ESI unit. Dell nine years ago launched DCS to develop systems that address the needs of the largest hyperscale vendors—including Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay and Baidu—for fast, scalable and customized infrastructure offerings that are optimized for particular workloads. In August 2015, Dell unveiled the Datacenter Scalable Solutions (DSS) unit, which offers similar infrastructure systems to the several hundred organizations that aren't as large as the hyperscale players but still need customized and optimized products that are differentiated from the PowerEdge systems Dell sells to enterprises.

These organizations can include telecommunications companies, oil and gas firms, Web-tech companies, hosting businesses and research groups. In December, Dell brought both these groups under the ESI umbrella to bring better clarity to the company's hyperscale efforts and enable the units to better share everything from marketing and engineering efforts to the supply chain.

The work on Triton fits in with ESI's mission, according to Jyeh Gan, director of product management, marketing and strategy for the unit. Other system OEMs have looked to bring liquid cooling to servers and other data center gear over the years. IBM first introduced liquid cooling to some mainframes in the 1960s, and in the last decade the company unveiled its Rear Door Heat Exchanger technology as an option for the server rack doors for its Power and Intel-based System x servers. (The x86-based systems were sold two years ago to Lenovo.) More recently, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (then Hewlett-Packard) in 2014 brought liquid cooling to its Apollo 8000 systems, while Intel and supercomputer maker SGI announced that year that they were experimenting with a liquid developed by 3M that servers could be submerged in

However, Dell officials said Triton is more efficient and less costly than other options because the company was able to do away with pumping systems, cooling loops and liquid-to-liquid heat exchangers. Triton uses water brought in through a facility's regular water system and to each server sled to cool the CPU, an approach that is more efficient in its cooling and uses less water than other options. According to officials, it uses 97 percent less cooling power than the average air-cooled data center and consumes as much as 62 percent less power than Apollo 8000.

Dell engineers have designed an open-loop system that brings the water through the 2U (3.5-inch) server sleds via torched-brazed copper pipes that reduce the chance of leaks, and has multiple layers of leak detection and overflow technologies. Dell's Gan said the company also is working on a closed-loop version that uses the same cooling technology but eliminates the need for the data center to provide facility water to the rack.

Dell officials noted that liquid cooling can help some scale-out environments, but traditional air-cooled technologies will make better financial sense for many data centers.

Analysts with Moor Insights and Strategy wrote in a report that Triton's "unique cooling capabilities provided inspiration for the development of a custom Intel CPU, which has the potential to offer a large TCO [total cost of ownership] benefit for customers who have workloads that scale well with CPU frequency and core count."

There are multiple benefits to liquid cooling, from improved system performance and power consumption to cost savings and the ability to reuse the waste heat, Gina Longoria, senior analyst at Moor, and Jimmy Pike, technologist with the firm, wrote in the report. Still, it's best-suited for particular companies, they wrote.

"IT organizations looking to improve overall energy efficiency or who have workloads that scale well with extremely high CPU frequency and core count may benefit from using liquid-cooled IT equipment," Longoria and Pike wrote. "Dell ESI has significant experience servicing large customers with liquid cooling solutions and has been working on improvements to their approach for over six years. Their 'Triton' liquid cooling innovation not only has excellent cooling capacity, but its simplicity eliminates many unnecessary elements whose operation can be costly."

Originally published on eWeek.
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