Buoyed by its 2018 trial of submerging an entire data center in the Scottish Sea, Microsoft is now sinking production Azure servers inside tailor-made bathtubs filled with a special non-conductive liquid.
Data centers are usually air cooled through swamp cooling, which requires large quantities of water. The trials with the special liquid are part of Microsoft’s pledge to reduce water consumption.
Microsoft said in a blog post that while this immersion process has existed in the industry for a few years now, it is the first cloud provider to run a two-phase immersion cooling with production servers.
“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft’s data center advanced development group. “That’s what’s driving us to immersion cooling, where we can directly boil off the surfaces of the chip.”
Microsoft is working on a phased trial to first subject a single rack, eventually moving on to multiple racks, with plans to use the technology more broadly in the future.
The fluorocarbon-based liquid is reportedly more efficient in removing heat as it directly hits components. At 122 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 degrees Celsius, the fluid has a lower boiling point than water, and evaporates easily.
The system then condenses the vapour and it falls back into the bath as a raining liquid creating a closed-loop cooling system.
Belady says another advantage of the system is that the specially crafted tubs allow them to pack more hardware, which makes them more space efficient than the current generation of data centers.