The mere thought of spilling liquid on your new and expensive computer is enough to cause heart palpitations that your neighbor down the road can feel. And yet that is what Microsoft intends to do with its hardware as it has revealed a plan to improve server performance and efficiency by submerging them in boiling liquid. I guess as long as its their money and not mine, they can do what they want.
The new approach, as highlighted by the company, will see Microsoft submerging server racks in a specially designed non-conductive fluid. The so-called fluorocarbon-based liquid works by removing heat as it directly hits components, and the fluid reaches a lower boiling point (around 50 degrees Celsius) to condense and fall back into the bath as a raining liquid. This creates a closed-loop cooling system, reducing costs as no energy is needed to move the liquid around the tank, and no chiller is needed for the condenser either.
Or as Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft’s data centre advanced development group, described to The Verge, its essentially “like a bathtub”:
The rack will lie down inside that bathtub, and what you’ll see is boiling just like you’d see boiling in your pot. The boiling in your pot is at 100 degrees Celsius, and in this case, it’s at 50 degrees Celsius… It potentially will eliminate the need for water consumption in data centres, so that’s a really important thing for us. It’s really all about driving less and lower impact for wherever we land
Currently, most data centres are air-cooled using outside air and evaporation, which utilises a lot of water and energy in the process. Being able to cut down much of that not only makes them far cheaper to operate, but also allows them to pack in the hardware more tightly together as there is no longer the need for lots of space to create airflow between components, making them more powerful too.
It sounds risky for Microsoft, but it’s not something that it’s approaching without some caution. The company is trialing the technique on a small number of servers first to monitor the reliability over time. It’s a similar approach they’ve taken to their submerged data centres, just far more radical. Soon you could end up doing the same thing for your gaming PC that will come in a bright neon liquid instead of a bright neon case.
Last Updated: April 9, 2021