• Air cooling is the default in data centers today, but new cooling methods are needed as server temperatures rise.
  • There are concerns about some forms of liquid cooling stemming from past coolant leakage in the early stages of its development.
  • Analysts claim that the market value for liquid cooling will exceed $1.8 billion by 2027.

An emerging trend in data centers across the globe, liquid cooling relies on the use of a non-conductive liquid to help disperse heat generated by servers and the chips inside them.

Why is liquid cooling gaining popularity?

Air cooling has historically been the default in data centers and is sufficient to serve racks operating at up to 50kW. But beyond that threshold, air cooling is both inefficient and insufficient, requiring data center operators to look for alternatives as higher power chips and increased rack density push power levels up to 100 kW and beyond.

Enter liquid cooling. Gartner research claims that liquid cooling conducts ‘more than 3,000 times as much heat’ as commercially available fan sets.

Liquid cooling is a term that encompasses several different technologies, including direct-to-chip, rear door heat exchanger and immersion systems. But there are several hurdles to adoption.

The challenges of liquid cooling

The primary concerns surrounding the integration of liquid cooling are ecosystem maturity, operational readiness, and retrofitting obstacles.

Tony Harvey, Senior Director at Gartner, told Silverlinings that liquid cooling solutions, while not impossible, are difficult to retrofit into existing data centers.

As opposed to a standard air-cooling system which only needs to be installed adjacent to a processing unit, liquid cooling systems require a host of wires, pumps, and tubing. As a result, installing a liquid cooling system requires some degree of knowledge in fields such as electronics, plumbing and thermodynamics, meaning that organizations deploying liquid cooling will likely need to budget for a specialist technician on top of hardware costs.

What the future holds

Lucas Beran, research director of Data Center Physical Infrastructure at Dell’Oro, told Silverlinings his analyst firm is predicting the liquid cooling market will reach $1.8 billion by 2027. He added that figure is specific to liquid cooling used in data centers and does not include liquid cooling used for specific applications like bitcoin mining.

So, while not quite mainstream, liquid cooling is poised to experience widespread adoption from enterprises as growing demand for cloud services necessitates the deployment of cooling solutions for the data center.

Liquid cooling players

Some companies that provide liquid cooling technologies, include: Asetek, Asperitas, Iceotope, Vertiv, CoolIT Systems and Dell among many others.

Learn more about liquid cooling:

Equinix gears up for the liquid cooling revolution

Immersion cooling tech is hot. What are hyperscalers waiting for?

The top 3 liquid cooling solutions for data centers