Laboratory gets into hot water

Liquid cooled data center sets new standard


The most energy-efficient data center in the world is being assembled at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden.

“We’re NREL, so we try to walk the walk,” NREL spokeswoman Heather Lammers said, as she led a sneak-peek tour of the new data center.

The new computer center is in the latest addition to the NREL campus, the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), which is scheduled for a public unveiling next month.
The ESIF facility was constructed last fall, and the interior has slowly been put to use. Lammers said the entire building is something of a laboratory to try out different energy technologies and how they could be combined.

“So, we can have a solar-energy system running on one end and a smart house on the other, and see how they interact,” Lammers said.

For larger experiments, like running computer simulations to find the optimal arrangement of power-generating wind mills on a ridge, or calculating nationwide power fluctuations, the scientists at NREL need some hefty computing power. ESIF is designed to house a computer center with more than a petaflop (a million-billion calculations per second) of processing power.

“This gives our scientists access to the processes and phenomena they normally wouldn’t have,” NREL Director of Computational Science Steve Hammond said, calling the center the most efficient in the world.

While the data center will help scientists improve energy technologies, the physical racks of computers are also being put to work. One row of processors is positioned under an air-intake hood, where they help provide hot air for ESIF. A new rack of computers — prototypes from Hewlett-Packard — uses water to keep the processor chips cool, while providing hot water for the building.

“Traditional thinking is that liquids and data centers don’t mix,” Hammond said. “We wanted to demonstrate that it could be done safely and reliably.”

The new cooling set up is also expected to save NREL substantial money, Hammond said. The data center will be capable of warming water above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

That water will then be used for radiant heat and evaporative cooling throughout the building.

With the energy efficiencies, and cost savings being demonstrated by NREL, Hammond said, he predicts the ESIF facility will set a new data-center standard.


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