Thanks to innovative cooling technology developed by an MIT-hatched startup, data center managers may soon be able to acquire servers and HPC (high-performance computing) devices that will significantly reduce the energy cost and footprint of the faciities they oversee.
The startup, Jetcool, sprang from research conducted at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, and this month received an R&D 100 Award from R&D World magazine, marking it as a standout innovator for its use of what it calls “microconvection” liquid cooling of electronics.
Jetcool’s technology is similar to the all-in-one coolers used in some desktop PCs, but with an important difference—the use of tiny jets to move coolant onto hot spots on silicon. This results in what the company says is a massive difference in heat transfer coefficient, making its devices more effective by a factor of 10, compared to traditional heat sinks or cold plates.
Most cooling today is based on traditional air conditioning and heat sinks, which becomes a bigger problem as silicon becomes more powerful and generates more heat, according to Jetcool head of business development Tom Driscoll.
“As chip manufacturers are making processors that have higher power and smaller footprints, it’s becoming less and less tenable to cool these things through traditional means,” he said.
Liquid cooling, where either water or ethylene glycol is used as a medium of heat transfer, is well-understood, but traditional form factors sometimes demand a lot of implementation work, including the construction of custom loops and reservoirs for cooling fluids.
Cooling tech cuts energy costs by up to 8%
Where Jetcool differs is that its microconvection technology makes it more efficient, and uses low-cost materials which can be produced via existing foundry tools. Because the system is able to pull heat away from silicon more effectively, it lets the company offer cooling systems in much smaller form factors, with the idea being to include Jetcool cooling as an option on existing servers and HPC modules, for a data center energy cost savings of up to 8%. This allows OEMs to create more powerful products for a given form factor, potentially reducing data center footprints by 30%, since even high-performance silicon won’t need to be encumbered by bulky heatsinks or rigged for traditional types of liquid cooling.
“The thing that our tech allows us to do is … operate with really warm coolants,” said Driscoll, adding that this means that the closed-loop systems used by Jetcool don’t need to expend as much energy getting the coolant down to a particularly cold temperature. “We’re essentially using really complicated geometry to control the flow of the fluid.”
Driscoll didn’t disclose any details about specific customers, but said that OEMs have tended to see Jetcool as a helpful way to deliver high-performance hardware without forcing customers to invest in external cooling systems.
”We’ve seen a lot of interest across the space,” he said, noting that the technology is being trialed by manufacturers. “Not just from server manufacturers, but also customers on the networking side, which might not have been intuitive five or six years ago.”