Two-phase cooling: Microsoft submerges cloud servers in liquid

Non-conductive liquid in which server hardware is sunk could make data centers more compact and efficient in the future. Microsoft is currently testing the principle with a container in its own Azure cloud and the option of expanding its use in the future.

Processors, GPU accelerators and other components do not need large heat sinks in these containers. Instead, the cooling liquid from 3M evaporates on the chip at a boiling point of 50 degrees Celsius, thereby transporting the waste heat away. Radiators in the lid cool the steam down, which condenses and falls back into the pool like rain.

The radiators, in turn, are connected to their own external cooling system. Metal plates on the chips only increase the contact area with the liquid. The principle has worked Microsoft copied from crypto miners, as the company admits in the blog.

(Image: Gene Twedt / Microsoft)

The hardware can be installed in a more compact way than with classic air or water-cooled systems because there is no heat sink. In addition, the components stay cooler due to the boiling point at 50 degrees Celsius, which, according to Microsoft, reduces power consumption by 5 to 15 percent. This saves electricity costs in the long term and protects the environment, but also enables overclocking at peak times when a particularly large amount of computing power is required at short notice. The elimination of systems with evaporative cooling should also reduce the water requirement.

After experience with Project Natick, in which Microsoft sank hardware containers in the sea, the responsible engineers believe that hardware without air contact fails significantly less often. In the sea containers filled with gas, the defects fell to about one eighth.

Microsoft wants to set up redundant test systems with liquid cooling so that they can continue to work in the event of individual defects. As a result, the containers would continue to work for longer without the need for maintenance and could be economically sealed airtight so that no steam escapes. This means that it can also be used in remote locations, for example on 5G transmission masts.


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