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Bathtub computing

April 11, 2007

The search for more efficient servers has already brought us trailer park computing. Now it's bringing us bathtub computing. A UK firm with the unfortunate name Very-PC claims that submerging server racks in an oil bath can cut electricity use by up to half. The company plans to introduce the slippery new system next year. Reports New Scientist:

In tests, server racks were immersed in tanks of oil normally used to keep machinery cool. A refrigeration unit positioned below was used to create convection currents that draw heat away from the electronics, which is much more energy efficient than using fans. "Using oil we could chill down to -20ºC, but between 0ºC and 10ºC looks to be best," says [Very-PC managing director Peter] Hopton.

He suggests that the extra cost of using oil should be quickly paid back by the increased efficiency. Also, keeping components cooler should reduce the chances of failure, making the machines more reliable, Hopton says, and that more machines can be packed into the same amount of physical space.

A Purdue University cooling expert, quoted by New Scientist, is skeptical of the idea. He believes that if you're going to put your servers in a bathtub, you should use a special dielectric coolant liquid called Fluorinert rather than machine oil.

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