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The Data Center of the Future: Spotlight on Immersion Cooling

Jason Clark, Director, Research & Development
February 27, 2020

Enterprises are experiencing more pressure than ever to undergo digital transformation (DX) in order to stay competitive. According to 451 Research, 65% of organizations that they surveyed have a formal DX strategy in place and enterprises that are not transforming are being left behind.

Core to a number of these digital transformation strategies is the implementation of compute-intensive applications such as AI, machine learning and IoT. While giving enterprises an edge in understanding their business in new ways, this new class of emerging technologies comes with their own challenges in adoption at-scale. And at the center of this scale challenge sits the data center⁠—the foundation of any digital enterprise.

New technologies, new challenges

With the explosion of AI and IoT in the enterprise, data gravity has come to the forefront as a recognized hurdle. Enterprises are now working with unprecedented amounts of data. However, as more data is created it gets more difficult to move it since data and applications are attracted to one another, a concept that was first introduced a decade ago by Dave McCrory.

At the same time, these new data-intensive applications require higher-density IT gear to work at an enterprise-scale⁠—with many existing data centers physically unable to accommodate these new types of workloads.

Both of these challenges are changing the way data centers are being configured to be used effectively now and in the future. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of enterprises will have shut down their traditional data center, versus 10% today. Factors driving this are the new requirements of AI and IoT and the associated increases in workload densities. However, data centers are here to stay, just not in the traditional sense since they’re undergoing their own digital transformation and being re-imagined as centers of data exchange.

Enter immersion cooling

One of the ways data center operators are looking at innovating their existing architecture is in how they’re cooling their facilities. Immersion cooling is a comparatively newer technology that is quickly becoming a huge part of the enterprise wish-list as emerging technologies become a bigger part of global operations. Immersion cooling is the practice of submerging computer components (or full servers) in a thermally conductive dielectric liquid or coolant. The cooling fluids that are used have excellent insulating properties so they can come into contact with electronic equipment safely. According to a recent report, the liquid/immersion cooling market is anticipated to reach $2.5 billion by 2025.

Immersion cooling enables ultra-high-density equipment to be readily deployed in otherwise low or medium-density facilities, essentially retrofitting the data center for future applications. Similarly, greenfield facilities are looking at the technology as a must-have to be considered a facility of choice for companies deploying emerging technologies.

At Digital Realty, we’re collaborating with leading companies in immersion cooling, such as Submer Technologies, to study the latest innovations in data center cooling infrastructure and to be ready to deploy as our customers' needs evolve. For example, we are piloting a single-phase immersion cooling solution with Submer in our Ashburn Building L facility. Submer uses a green and totally hazardous-free biodegradable coolant which is in line with our priorities around sustainability. We are excited by the prospects of working with companies like Submer and others, not only to meet the new requirements of the data center, but to aid other customer priorities such as sustainability that can be met by innovating our approach to our cooling infrastructure. The SmartPod demo in Ashburn was installed with the help of leading critical power and precision cooling provider, Compu Dynamics.

The data center of the future

Immersion cooling is just one example of how we’re shifting towards the data center—or center of data exchange—of the future. New workflows, built on the back of AI and IoT, are changing the requirements our customers look for in a provider and form the crux of our PlatformDIGITAL™ strategy.

We’ve purpose-built our PlatformDIGITAL™ hubs based on the challenges enterprises are facing today. For example, Data Hub is an ideal solution for enterprises facing a data gravity challenge because it not only allows you to reduce the costs associated with solving for data gravity—including in the physical infrastructure requirements like cooling—but it also helps to implement distributed architectures that enhance compliance and allows teams to be more agile and innovative in their approach to how they use and manage data.

Enterprises will need to leverage their IT infrastructure more strategically and creatively to gain a competitive advantage. Immersion cooling is an effective way to reduce power consumption while maintaining performance across high density workloads like AI applications.

Digital Realty is hosting a demo site for Submer’s SmartPodX at our Ashburn facility, so you can see what immersion cooling looks like and how it works in-person. Schedule a tour here and learn more about our Ashburn facilities here.

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