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NSA considering mineral oil for liquid cooling its data centers

By Donna Donnowitz
September 5, 2014

Large-scale data centers, including the nation's secret intelligence agencies, are constantly experimenting with new methods for increasing storage capacity while minimizing operating costs. Liquid cooling has gained popularity among data centers for its high-efficiency performance, and the National Security Agency may soon be deploying liquid cooling solutions across its facilities, says Data Center Knowledge. This potential adoption of liquid cooling solutions comes after extensive testing of the method by the NSA and other tech industry leaders.

Promising trial runs
The National Security Agency is optimistic about the potential for liquid solutions to significantly reduce data center cooling costs. The agency reported that it had piloted the use of oil-immersion technology in 2012 and found that that the strategy's benefits greatly outweighed its downsides. The Agency even predicted that future data center construction projects could cut their costs in half by utilizing oil-immersion liquid cooling.

Processor manufacturer Intel also piloted an oil-immersion cooling strategy in 2012, and reported similar results, notes Gigaom. Both utilized Green Revolution's mineral oil solution, and found that the company was able to support a far larger rack volume for the price. Intel's thermal architect Mike Patterson raved about the advantages of oil-immersion cooling, noting the cooling method allowed servers to operate at PUE between 1.02 and 1.03.

Mineral oil advantages
Mineral oil offers a long list of advantages as a cooling method for data centers. First, mineral oil is the superior choice for immersion cooling because the liquid won't impact computer components or carry electrical charge like water. Mineral oil also boasts a very high heat capacity. While this capacity is not as robust as that of water, mineral oil still offers 1000 times the heat capacity of open air. These properties make mineral oil uniquely advantageous for cooling servers.

The use of mineral oil also removes the need for fans. More importantly, data centers that are designed to optimize the performance of mineral oil cooling are no longer bound by the structural restrictions of air flow. Likewise, data center components themselves are likely to grow more space efficient as liquid cooling methods gain popularity. Both the NSA and Intel noted that success with liquid cooling tests does not guarantee that the organizations are intending to make a full switch to mineral oil, instead planning to evaluate the effectiveness of each cooling method on a case-by-case basis. Companies implementing a half-and-half solution may utilize remote console servers to take advantage of high-efficiency liquid cooling in multiple locations.

Perle's wide range of 1 to 48 port Perle Console Servers provide data center managers and network administrators with secure remote management of any device with a serial console port. Plus, they are the only truly fault tolerant Console Servers on the market with the advanced security functionality needed to easily perform secure remote data center management and out-of-band management of IT assets from anywhere in the world.


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