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Equinix would offer more liquid cooling but struggles without standards

Immersion has different problems: datacenters aren't strong enough to hold lots of liquids

Datacenter giant Equinix knows it needs to offer liquid cooling to its clients, but is struggling to deliver because there are no standards for the design of servers.

"If you look at the silicon roadmaps from Intel, Nvidia and AMD, these things are space heaters," said Zachary Smith, Equinix's global head of edge infrastructure services in conversation with The Register. "When DDR6 plus NVME plus your chip equals two or three kilowatts in a 1U server, how do you cool it?"

"After you get 300 watts per socket you can't get enough air through a server to cool it," he added. "In certain servers, sixty percent of the energy consumed is just fans pulling air."

One approach Smith feels would address the problem is to build devices that can cope with higher ambient temperatures in the datacenter.

He also feels liquid cooling is an option – and a mature one. It's used widely in gaming PCs, and in-rack systems or heat exchangers are frequently mounted on the rear door of datacenter racks.

But making liquid cooling work at scale is complicated by the fact that the wide range of server designs from major vendors mean datacenter operators can't design rigs.

"How do we make it work with all the varied OEMs who all put their cables in a different pod?" Smith asked The Register.

"Can we use standardized connectors for liquid cooled loops? Can we put them in the same place? Can we label them the right colors so our techs know what to do with them? As an industry, we can build around that."

Equinix has joined the Open 19 project which is designing a modular datacenter rack with the aim of making maintenance and operations easier. Smith is asking similar questions to those above in that forum.

The company is also considering immersion cooling – a tech that is gathering momentum in the world of HPC.

But again, Smith again has worries. Among his concerns is the fact that multi-storey datacenters were not built to carry the weight of rooms full of the dielectric fluids needed for immersion cooling.

Connecting optic fibers to immersed devices is also tricky.

Smith thinks some of the cooling challenges facing datacenters can be addressed with new server designs.

He points out "We have not seen a major change in servers for, what, 30 years?” But he's seeing some signs of change – such as designs for fully encased modules that put immersion fluid and servers into a sealed box.

"It would take more of an industry push, but I think we could see more from our silicon partners," he said.

The Register suggested that one route to greater adoption of liquid or immersion cooling could be for Equinix to build racks that match the features of particular servers or rack designs.

"That is what we are looking for," Smith said. ®

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