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Investors are warming up to liquid cooling

Ku:l Data Center is a chassis-level liquid cooling system developed through close collaboration between Iceotope, Intel and HPE.

Immersion cooling specialist Iceotope Technologies Limited has closed a £30m (about $35.7 million US) funding round from a global investment syndicate led by Singapore private equity firm ABC Impact.

The global syndicate supporting Iceotope includes strategic investments from nVent – a leading global provider of electrical connection and protection solutions – along with SDCL Energy Efficiency Income Trust, Northern Gritstone, British Patient Capital, Pavilion Capital, and existing investor, Edinv.

“This significant investment, one of the largest amounts recently invested in liquid cooling, is a testament to the great work of our designers for our customers across the globe,” said David Craig, CEO of Iceotope Technologies. “Given the global importance of the data centeR sector, which can only increase as edge facilities proliferate and extend to the far reaches of civilization, we look forward to accelerating our global deployment plan with the help of our new and existing investment partners.”

The news follows a similar announcement from immersion pioneer GRC (Green Revolution Cooling), which said in March that it has secured a $28 million Series C equity investment led by SK Lubricants. Last year bitcoin cooling specialist LiquidStack launched as a stand-alone company with $10 million in Series A funding from hyperscale hardware maker Wiwynn,

Taken together, the announcements illustrate growing investor confidence in the future of immersion cooling, which appears poised to move beyond its historic niches in high-performance computing (HPC) and cryptocurrency and gain greater adoption in traditional data centers.

“By increasing efficiency in their use of energy and water, data centers can contribute to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions,” Tan Shao Ming, Chief Investment Officer at ABC Impact. “We see vast potential to deploy this technology in Asia, especially regions with tropical climates, and we look forward to working with Iceotope to scale its positive impact.”

Strategic investors drive immersion funding
Interest in liquid cooling has been boosted by the growth of artificial intelligence, which relies upon powerful hardware that packs more computing power into each piece of equipment, boosting the power density – the amount of electricity used by servers and storage in a rack or cabinet – and the accompanying heat. These rising power densities are challenging traditional practices in data center cooling, and prompting data center operators to adapt new strategies to support high-density racks.

But interest in advanced cooling is no longer just about density and “hot hardware,” according to the recent Data Center Frontier roundtable of data center experts, who cite a confluence of factors that includes sustainability and edge deployments.

“Factors impacting adoption include rack densities, pressure to reduce energy consumption, space constraints, water usage restrictions, and harsh IT environments,” noted Steven Carlini of Schneider Electric.

Strategic partners have played a role in recent investment rounds. Some examples:

  • As part of a strategic alliance with Iceotope, nVent will offer new modular integrated solutions for data centers, edge facilities, and HPC applications. “Together we’ve created sustainable, innovative cooling solutions that efficiently solve for heat and avoid downtime in data centers,” said Joe Ruzynski, President of Enclosures at nVent. “Moving forward, we have the opportunity to build on our success and drive the next phase of precision immersion cooling solutions in an exciting and growing space.”
  • South Korea’s SK Lubricants, the lead investor in GRC’s recent fundraising, specializes in motor oil and other oil-based lubricant products and will work with GRC to jointly develop liquid immersion cooling systems for data centers, hoping to drive rapid standardization and commercialization of single-phase immersion cooling systems.
  • Cloud infrastructure vendor Wiwynn provided $10 million in Series A funding for LiquidStack, and brings deep experience working with hyperscale data center operators, both directly and through the Open Compute Project. Wiwynn anticipates future growth of liquid cooling in cloud environments. “We foresee the technology widely adopted in data centers with its unmatched performance, reliability, and environmental benefits,” said Wiwynn CEO Emily Hong.

Private equity firms and global funds have also played a key role. Thus far most of the opportunities to invest in immersion cooling have been in private companies, with no major publicly-held firms available to present a “pure play” investment in the sector.

Service providers prep for future density
It’s not just the funding announcements that are hinting at future adoption of immersion. In recent months we’ve seen three of the largest players in the global data center scene announce trials of liquid cooling, with an eye toward expanding the availability of the technology in their data centers.

  • In May, colocation and interconnection giant Equinix said it is running liquid-cooled NVIDIA GPUs in the company’s Co-Innovation Facility (CIF) in Ashburn, Virginia. “This marks the first liquid-cooled GPU introduced to our lab, and that’s exciting for us because our customers are hungry for sustainable ways to harness AI,” said Zac Smith, Global Head of Edge Infrastructure Services at Equinix, which is the largest provider of colocation and interconnection services, with 10,000 customers and 240 data centers across the globe.
  • Last month NTT Data said it was running immersion cooling systems in one of its data centers in Japan “with the aim of realizing a decarbonized society.” The company said the energy used for cooling the data center was reduced by up to 97% in the installation, which used an immersion cooling system from LiquidStack. NTT, which is the third-largest global data center operator, said it now will build a machine room dedicated to immersion and develop the tech as a service.
  • Last week Macquarie Data Centres signed a multi-year deal with ResetData, an Australian provider using Submer immersion cooling technology. The partnership says Submer tech reduces the physical footprint of IT equipment by up to 90 per cent, and the heat generated by the infrastructure can be 99 per cent recycled. Globally.

Intel steps up immersion research and collaboration
Significantly, Intel is also sharpening its focus on liquid cooling. In May the company said it has rolled out a proof-of-concept immersion cooling facility in Taiwan, saying Intel “aims to simplify and accelerate the implementation of immersion liquid cooling solutions throughout the ecosystem globally.”

Intel also unveiled plans to invest more than $700 million for a 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the art research and development mega lab focused on innovative data center technologies, including liquid cooling.

Iceotope is among the companies collaborating with Intel. Last month Iceotope demonstrated chassis-level cooling system the Intel Booth at HPE Discover 2022. The collaboration between Iceotope, Intel and HPE promises “a faster path to net zero operations by reducing edge and data center energy use by nearly a third.”

Iceotope’s Precision Immersion Cooling system, known as Ku:l Data Center, was compared to a traditional air-cooled system using a 19.6kW load comprising 16x HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen10 servers under stress test conditions. The tesTing fOund that the immersion system enabled a 4% increase in performance with zero throttling in higher ambient temperatures at server level and consumed 1kW less energy at rack level than its air-cooled counterpart. This represents a 5% energy saving in the IT alone and a 30% saving at scale based on a typical cooling power usage effectiveness (pPUE) of 1.4 in air and 1.04 in liquid cooled data centers.

The positioning of the product reinforces the growing focus on liquid cooling as a sustainability solution.

“The processing requirements for ubiquitous AI and high-performance applications across the board are already creating a sustainability dilemma for operators,” said Iceotope Director of Product Strategy, Jason Matteson. “Accommodating a precipitous increase in chip power at the same time as lowering carbon emissions in distributed edge locations as well as data centers is problematic. Iceotope’s Ku:l Data Center demonstrates a very practical response to an urgent need for a paradigm shift in data center design.” Data Center Frontier

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