Equinix gears up for the liquid cooling revolution

As people across the northern hemisphere prepare to crank the AC to keep cool this summer, colocation company Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX) is looking to another technology to beat the heat in a handful of its data centers: liquid cooling. Tiffany Osias, VP of Global Colocation at Equinix, told Silverlinings it plans to deploy closed-loop liquid cooling in a total of six data centers this year, with two each in the Americas, Asia Pacific and EMEA regions.

Today, data centers are commonly air-cooled, meaning ambient temperatures are kept low to keep servers from overheating. Liquid cooling offers an alternative to this approach and uses cold water to keep key components – like chips – cool. As Gartner noted, liquid conducts 3,000 times as much heat as air, meaning liquid cooling is more efficient than air cooling.

Osias said the concept of liquid cooling isn’t new – it’s been around for years. However, it hasn’t yet been widely deployed across data centers. That’s changing, though, as data center density increases and companies prioritize sustainability. While high performance computing for AI and other priority workloads isn’t dependent on liquid cooling, it is certainly helping drive the trend, she added.

Indeed, Gartner data backs up her assertion. Gartner’s Market Guide for Servers issued in January 2023 noted enterprise servers comprise the “largest segment” of the $100 billion server market. While liquid cooling for this segment will “only be adopted when absolutely necessary,” Gartner pointed to increased uptake of liquid cooling – including direct-to-chip and immersion – in the high-performance compute realm.

“Liquid cooling is primarily driven by the multimegawatt power consumption and cooling requirements of highly dense compute clusters for the HPC market,” the report states. “However, its use is also being driven by the use of high-performance accelerators in hyperscalers, the need to support harsh environments in the edge server market, and the renewed focus on energy and cooling efficiency as part of the drive toward more sustainable IT solutions.”

Equinix already hosts 10 live liquid cooling deployments today, Osias said. But these are bespoke deployments in which Equinix’s customers have their own self-contained systems. What Equinix is looking to deploy this year is closed-loop liquid-to-liquid cooling, where water is not lost to evaporation and the cooling is supplied by Equinix to its customers.

“Imagine having 10 different cabinets in a row and each of those cabinets has racks of computers. Then there is a pipe that comes down and it can put liquid into each of those different racks,” she said. “That’s what Equinix would provide in a liquid-to-liquid environment.”

Seeking sustainability

The deployment of liquid cooling plays into sustainability efforts that Equinix and other data center companies are increasingly pursuing.

“There’s the energy efficiency and there’s also the water efficiency,” she said. Because liquid cooling in a closed loop system requires only a small amount of water and lessens the need for air cooling, the “need for energy decreases and the need for water decreases, so it’s a very effective, sustainable solution. “

According to its Sustainability Report for FY2022, 96% of the energy Equinix used last year was covered by renewable energy investments. That figure was up from 92% in 2019, but is notable given the amount of electricity consumed has increased from 5,700 GWh to 7,750 GWh over the same period. It is aiming to achieve 100% renewable energy coverage by 2030.

Between 2019 and 2022, Equinix was also able to cut its Scope 1 emissions, or greenhouse gas output that comes from sources directly controlled by the company. These fell from 40,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mtCO2e) to 40,300 mtCO2e.

Beyond just looking to cut emissions, Osias noted Equinix is also looking at ways to channel the heat generated by its data centers into sustainable heating options rather than letting it go to waste. For instance, she noted that in Helsinki its data centers help heat local homes and in Paris they will be used to help warm swimming pools for the Olympics.

And in hotter regions like Singapore, the company is rethinking just how much it needs to cool its data centers, she added.

“There are a lot of different variables depending on where you are around the world and what we would think about for heating or for cooling. It’s one of the complexities of our business,” she concluded.