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A Look at Lenovo’s New Liquid-Cooling Technology

Lenovo Data Center

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At the recent International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, Lenovo unveiled its new liquid cooling approach called Neptune. Lenovo says that Neptune can help data centers run up to 50 percent more efficiently. Lenovo also says that its technology will not sacrifice density or performance.

Liquid cooling has been used for decades in high-performance computers. That is because water is better for cooling as it absorbs and transports heat much better than air. In spite of this fact, air has been the prevalent heat-transfer method in the mainstream computer industry for years. The reason is that it is less expensive to build and maintain tha a liquid-cooled data center. Air works out okay for the average enterprise server.

However, with the advances in artificial intelligence and other technologies, GPUs and CPUs are added to increasingly converged and dense racks. This makes it harder to cool the systems used for artificial intelligence and analytics using air. Given these changes, it will become necessary to use water cooling.

Lenovo Leading the Way

Lenovo is betting that liquid cooling in the data center will no longer be reserved for high-performance computing. Lenovo has put its bets on this trend by investing in Neptune. The executive director of Lenovo’s AI and HPC units, Scott Tease, believes that it will become far more mainstream to use water cooling due to the issues noted above.

Lenovo, as well as other hardware makers, say that various forms of liquid cooling will become standard in data centers due to the rise of machine learning applications, virtual reality and big data analytics.

Google is already using liquid cooling for its custom artificial intelligence chips. Companies like Google and Lenovo say that it will be increasingly difficult to cool servers with air. Processors are getting more and more power-hungry. Newer chips consume more power than ever before. Things that surround the chips, like the IO cards, storage devices and memory are also getting more powerful. As a result, more efficient ways of cooling the data centers will be needed in the future.

Lenovo is ahead of the game when it comes to liquid cooled data centers. The company has worked on its liquid cooling systems for supercomputers for more than five years. Back in 2012, at one of the supercomputer facilities in Munich, Germany, Lenovo installed the first x86 cluster that was cooled by water. The system helped lower the amount of electrical consumption by 40 percent or more. The company is now on its fourth generation of technologies. They have installed more than 24,000 liquid-cooled nodes. 

How It Works

Neptune God

Neptune is actually a three-way approach to cooling. The name was borrowed from Neptune, who is the Roman god of the seas. This god brandishes a three-pronged spear. Lenovo’s Neptune technology involves using the following three approaches: Rear Door Heat Exchangers, hybrid cooling and direct to Node liquid cooling.

These three technologies are managed by Lenovo’s Energy Aware Runtime software, also called EAR. This software helps optimize systems for performance and energy efficiency from the chassis to the component level.

Lenovo says that Neptune can do more than just aid high-performance computing. Lenovo says that the technology can help large enterprises cut their energy consumption and electric bills significantly. The company maintains that the switch to water cooling is more efficient and reduces the amount of space required.

Lenovo asserts that liquid cooling isn’t as difficult to implement or as expensive as people think. They say that the idea that liquid cooling is more expensive is just a myth. Lenovo says that its system costs just two percent more than the typical air-cooled systems in most cases.  

In the past, liquid-cooling systems were more expensive. That was because they would direct hot water from the servers to the chiller, which would cool the water temperature significantly. The chiller was expensive and required considerably more power use.

Lenovo has gotten around this problem by using warm water cooling. This approach, called Direct to Node cooling, lets physics help get rid of the thermal energy. This cuts out the need for a chiller. As water runs through the pipes, it is cooled naturally. Although this method does not cool the water down as much as a chiller can cool, it is still adequate enough for most uses.

IT Xchange is a long-time business partner of Lenovo, providing PC and server technology to VAR customers around the world.