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Lenovo introduces new water-cooled server technology

News Analysis
Feb 26, 20182 mins
Data CenterServers

Lenovo says the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server tray will lower power consumption 30 to 40% compared to traditional air cooling methods.

lenovo server high density thinksystem sd650
Credit: Lenovo

Lenovo has introduced a new high-density server “tray” for high-performance computing (HPC) environments with the newest generation of water cooling technology it co-developed with a German HPC firm.

Unlike your typical water-cooled system, where the water is chilled almost to a drinkable state, the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server tray — so called because of its design and shape — is designed to operate using warm water, up to 50°C, or 122°F.

There is a mindset that CPUs have to be chilled as though they were cold cuts, when Intel says they can handle much higher temperatures. Xeons can handle temps of up to 75°C without becoming unstable or crashing.

By using warmer water, Lenovo claims it will lower power consumption 30 to 40 percent compared to traditional air cooling methods.

Water cooling costs less and is more effective

Not only is it a cheaper method of cooling, but it’s more effective. Air cooling is only effective up to about 10 kilowatts of power in a server chassis, while water cooling can handle 70 kW or more.

And the ThinkSystem SD650 is one seriously dense server tray.  Each tray has two sockets, and up to 12 trays can be squeezed into one 6U NeXtScale n1200 enclosure. That translates to 24 Xeons, 9.2TB of memory, 24 SFF SSDs or 12 SFF NVMe drives, and 24 M.2 boot drives.

Lenovo developed the cooling system with the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Germany. Later this year, the center will deploy a 100 rack supercomputer consisting of 6,500 ThinkSystems SD650s with 26.7 petaflops of peak performance. That would make it the number three supercomputer on the Top500 supercomputer list as of November 2017, but there will undoubtedly be other contenders.

The direct-water cooled design allows for up to 90 percent heat recovery, meaning only 10 percent of the heat generated by the CPU has to be addressed with an air conditioner or fan. In fact, the SD650 doesn’t come with a fan, except for its power supply. This translates to a much quieter data center.

Water cooling is growing in popularity mostly out of necessity because air cooling is simply not sufficient for an ultra-dense server environment. The initial acquisition costs are a little higher, but they pay off over time with reduced ongoing costs.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.