Often, innovation grows from taking two previously unrelated “knowns” and bringing them together to synergistic success. At times, that “A-ha!” moment is the product of careful planning and research; other times, it is simply happenstance. Either way, the satisfaction is tangible — I’m sure I’m not the only one to have quoted Hannibal Smith from “The A-Team” in those moments: “I love it when a good plan comes together.”
That enthusiasm is evident in a recent video from researchers at the University of Leeds, where Dr. Jon Summers demonstrates the Isotope system, a prototype cooling system for server racks. (You can watch the video at http://bit.ly/15V8bmb.) The system immerses the server rack electronics in a dielectric fluid from 3M. The thermal management fluid, which does not conduct electricity, transfers heat from the electronic components to a secondary coolant loop (water). That secondary cooling loop terminates at heat exchangers that transfer the heat to a third cooling loop (in the case of the Isotope prototype, room radiators). With the Isotope prototype, the heat from the electronics is used effectively — via two heat exchanging water circuits — to warm the laboratory, taking a data center liability (excess heat) and putting it to better use.
Dielectric fluids like 3M’s Novec have been used for heat transfer, lubrication and testing in a range of industries. Semiconductor manufacturing relies on engineered fluids for temperature control of manufacturing equipment, and they are used in direct-contact electronics testing and thermal management applications. So, using engineered fluids for server room cooling has some precedent. Yet one of the key drivers of the Isotope system actually is energy efficiency. According to the University of Leeds, the Isotope system cuts energy consumption for server room cooling by between 80 percent and 97 percent. Like the A-Team’s Hannibal, the designers knew what they wanted to achieve — reduce the environmental impact of information technology systems — and they were willing to combine existing technologies in new ways to achieve it.