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Why Are So Many Big Tech Companies Using Mineral Oil to Cool Their Servers?

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Why Are So Many Big Tech Companies Using Mineral Oil to Cool Their Servers?

According to a new report from Data Center Knowledge, the country's least popular government agency is utilizing a little known cooling method to keep its server rack enclosures cool. The National Security Agency houses a robust setup of rack enclosures, the same rack enclosures that power its mass surveillance activities. Recognizing that traditional air cooling methods are inefficient, both thermally and financially, the NSA has since taken to using an oil-immersion cooling technique.


As the popular tech website Ars Technica details, liquid-immersion is not a new technique. Supercomputers developed by Cray Research in the 1980s relied on liquid-immersion technology to keep from overheating. At that time, however, a specialized liquid from 3M known as fluorine rt was used. Now, spy agencies and tech giants alike -- most notably Google -- submerge their server rack enclosures into large tanks filled with mineral oil.


How Can You Cool Electronic Components in a Liquid without Shorting Them Out?
The idea of submerging expensive rack mount hardware into a vat of viscous liquid is, understandably, often met with skepticism. Typically, you want to keep computing components as far away from liquids as possible to avoid completely destroying your system. Because of the unique properties of mineral oil, however,Wired pointsout that the only thing you need to do to ready your server rack enclosures for oil-submersion is remove any cooling fans and seal up any holes in your hard drive enclosures. Once you've done that, you've effectively eliminated any risk.


Liquid-Submersion is Cheaper, Eco-Friendly
What the NSA, Google, and Facebook have realized is that oil-submersion technology allows for far more powerful hardware configurations to be housed in much smaller spaces, all while actually reducing overall computing costs. Consider, by using liquid-submersion, you don't need to leave huge gaps for adequate air cooling.


The biggest benefit, arguably, is the drastic reduction in energy costs and environmental impact.Wired writes of how Intel has shown liquid-submerged systems only spend 2 to 3% of their energy to stay cool. Typical servers use between 50 and 60%. As for the mineral oil? It only needs to be replaced every 10 years. The only known downside is that replacing, repairing, or otherwise tweaking components makes for a messy way to spend an afternoon.


Is your business tapping into oil-submersion cooling for more efficient computing? Tell us why or why not in the comments below.

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