Boston Data Center Roundtable: Consolidation, Early Adopters Might Make Liquid Cooling a Reality

BOSTON, MA — CAPRE always has an eye to the future, and that’s why CAPRE’s Boston & New England Data Center Summit featured a panel titled “Data Center Infrastructure’s Next Generation: How to Colocate HPC Applications, including 5G and AI in an Existing Facility” to explore the technical side of the data center game, and how to prepare for the next generation. As is a common occurrence at CAPRE Data Center Summits, the discussion soon turned to liquid cooling. In this Insider Report, we highlight the unique takes offered by three panelists about where the data center arena is headed next, and how.

Jeff Klaus, General Manager – Data Center Software, Intel Corporation

“Liquid cooling seems great, and it’s certainly a trend. Whether we have big data or AI or liquid cooling, we all want to get on these trends. But the data center is a risk-averse environment. And I think it’s going to take some time,” offered Jeff Klaus, General Manager for Global Data Center Management Solutions at Intel. “The best thing in the world, the best solution in the world, would take some time. What will accelerate that, though, is the consolidation of workloads. And we’re predicting that in the next 10 years, 50% of the workloads that are out there are going to be run on the top three to five Clouds. Consolidation is going to help that trend, for any type of infrastructure solution, since there will be less players.”

Next up, Everett Thompson, General Manager of Wired Real Estate Group offered a suggestion for taking a broad look at this issue. “My invitation to you is to find another parallel industry, if you want to understand where this is going,” he advised. “I started my career as power plant engineer. I kind of got lucky and just stumbled into data centers. I worked at Equinix as one of the first 50 executives and headquarters. I worked on a lot of special projects, like one of Google’s first high-density deployments. They were building their own racks – we’d call it a G-Rack – 1.2x the size of a normal rack, with a very different power profile. We had to address these kinds of issues very early on back in 2002, that timeframe.”

Everett Thompson, General Manager, Wired Real Estate

“So my question to you all is do you find power plants in your backyard?” he asked the room. “And the answer is no. The transition from water wheels to power plans is happening on the internet. This is exactly the same thing. If you want to understand what this industry is going to look at in 10-20 years, look at the power industry. Distributed power – big concept. You can get solar on the roof of homes, but from a practical standpoint, is that industrial scale? Absolutely not.”

Thompson then looked to a comparable power solution for some lessons — district cooling. “Distributed power from district cooling is very rare. When I worked in power… we would take steam from the refinery and the power plant and use it to reclaim oil and things like that. But the applications that reclaim heat are very niche,” he explained. “They’re never going to make a big dent. And so all of that stuff is kind of noise if you’re thinking form an investment standpoint or an opportunity standpoint. The folks we are talking about are very risk-averse, and one of the biggest issues that I see in the adoption of these technologies is how nobody really has a view from the ground up. Because when you start to look at these technologies from a facilities standpoint, it just makes obvious sense.”

Vali Sorell, Vice-President & Chief Mission Critical Mechanical Engineer, Glumac

Finally, Vali Sorell, Vice President and Chief Mission Critical Mechanical Engineer at Glumac offered another perspective, largely concurring with Thompson. “A number of years ago, [a colleague] said that the first one to market liquid cooling loses. And I think they took that to heart. Because we have to take this risk, but the big players, [they’re saying] I’ll wait and see,” he chuckled. “So unfortunately, those who are willing to take the risk are also the names you don’t know about. They are the manufacturers that put the cold plate on the processor.”

“And there’s no harm in saying these names – Ase Tek and CoolIT Systems. Those are the first that said, I’m going to take the initiative, I’m going to take the risk. [Liquid cooling’s] finding adoption,” Sorell concluded. “But I think the big players are still hedging their bets, saying, let’s let the little guys take the irks. We’ve invested billions in air cooling, and we don’t want to use that up yet. We don’t want to change the market before we’ve gotten that benefit out of it.

For more from this panel, check out an earlier CAPRE Insider Report: Up to Half of All Data Centers You See Today Will Disappear Within Ten Years”: Wired Real Estate Group’s Everett Thompson Talks the Next Gen of Infrastructure at CAPRE’s Boston Data Center Summit

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