back to article Nokia Bell Labs gets funding to cool down data centres

With ever more compute power needed all over the world, Bell Labs has been tasked by the US Department of Energy (DoE) to develop ways of making data centres more energy efficient. The firm, which will receive over $2m for its efforts, said it aims to deliver tech that will allow for "sustainable" growth while addressing data …

  1. rcxb1 Bronze badge

    As long as water remains cheap, why shouldn't data centre operators continue to locate them in dry deserts and utilize evaporative cooling? What are the chances this $2M project is going to find a revolutionary way to keep servers cool that both uses less energy and is cheaper to implement and operate?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Given that access to potable water is already becoming a fight I think that may not be the best approach.

      I wonder how much we'd save by chucking out all the Intel chips which lose a sunstantial chunk of performance anyway due to the processing required to keep their backdoors closed and replace them with Epic CPUs. That ought to make a difference already.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        I think RCXB1 was being sarky or ironic or both.

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Coat

          "I think RCXB1 was being sarky or ironic or both".

          Why, I suppose he spoke of sea water. Google's data center in Finland is kept cool with sea water and so are nuclear power plants.

          The question is then howto use that heat for something worthwhile. This from Olkiluoto is not quite enough and is sort of an idea only because there is a winter.

          "The waste heat, an output common to all thermal power plants, which heats the cooling water (at 13 °C) is utilized for small-scale agriculture before being pumped back to the sea. The power plant hosts the northernmost vineyard in the world, a 0.1 ha experimental plot that yields 850 kg Zilga grapes annually.[56] Another use is a pond for growing crabs, whitefish and sturgeon for caviar.".

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "Why, I suppose he spoke of sea water. Google's data center in Finland is kept cool with sea water and so are nuclear power plants."

            Well, he did specify cheap water cooling in a dry desert data centre :-)

      2. rcxb1 Bronze badge

        > Given that access to potable water is already becoming a fight I think that may not be the best approach

        I never said potable. Grey water or similar will work perfectly well for cooling. The increased local evaporation could even result in rain, possibly increasing potable water supplies in the area.

        I wouldn't advocate them getting a special deal on water, certainly. In areas where people are fighting over water, the price should rise accordingly.

        1. Lazlo Woodbine Silver badge

          I remember seeing a video of a Google datacentre that uses grey water for cooling.

          It's filtered and cleaned to such an extent that it's allowed to flow straight into the local water system.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            > uses grey water for cooling.

            Yes, another seemingly good idea that doesn't really work in practice.

            We've had similar with RAID - remember the concept was to use large-scale redundancy to improve the reliability of cheap disks, the reality is we buy high spec disks for our disk arrays.

            We're seeing the same with the idea of using used car batteries in home batteries, where it is increasingly becoming obvious it is more cost effective (for manufacturers) to use new cells in home batteries and simply scrap EoL car batteries.

            In theory a gaming rig can use normal tap water for cooling, however reality means you are best advised to use special preparations using demineralised water etc. to prevent the build-up of sludge and scale. Similar with steam irons. Mine has an inbuilt scale filter, yet still needs regular descaling...

            1. Lazlo Woodbine Silver badge

              For a gaming rig where it's the only device attached to the water-cooler then yeah, it's not practical to build in the filtration needed to make grey water suitable.

              When you're cooling 20,000 servers though, a big filtration unit suddenly becomes cost-effective, as it means you're reusing water, so reducing your water bill, and if you filter it well enough, as Google manage to, then the water is actually cleaner on the way out of the building than it was on the way in, so you can work up a deal with the local water company to cut your bills further...

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                >When you're cooling 20,000 servers though, a big filtration unit suddenly becomes cost-effective

                So you're no longer actually using grey water as coolant in the cooling system.

                Okay it's a little pedantic but it does clarify there is some sophisticated filtration and conditioning between the 'grey'/mains water going in and the water cooling system.

                I suspect given the choice many will opt for mains water as their reliable "grey" water supply as I suspect it will be cheaper than using an uncertain local source of 'grey' water.

    2. Lotaresco

      "What are the chances this $2M project is going to find a revolutionary way to keep servers cool that both uses less energy and is cheaper to implement and operate?"

      One of the data centres that I used to work in used passive cooling. It had a large chimney/stack at one end of the building. Waste hot air was exhausted there. This causes the air to accelerate up the stack drawing cool air into the building. It was cheaper and lower maintenance than having an active cooling system but only viable in latitudes with cool average air temperatures.

      So, possible but possibly not viable for the scale required. Move all US datacentres to Canada and Alaska?

      An alternative is to put DCs underwater, as Microsoft have experimented with in Scotland. The seas off the north coast of Scotland are ideal because they are cold and also because the area has plenty of power (nuclear, HEP, wind) and high bandwidth cables because of past provision for the oil and gas industry.

      1. rcxb1 Bronze badge

        > Move all US datacentres to Canada and Alaska?

        Those areas have heat-waves, too, so you still need to install a large and expensive cooling system, and have adequate power supply for it. That is, unless you're as big as Google and can power-down entire data centres without affecting your operations.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        >One of the data centres that I used to work in used passive cooling. It had a large chimney/stack at one end of the building.

        Reminds me of the design of the OVH Strasbourg data centre; as demonstrated the design is great for passive cooling and for spreading fires...

  2. HildyJ Silver badge
    Boffin

    Read the article before you comment!

    What DoE's ARPA-E is looking for is a way to reduce water usage and get the heat to do useful work. Bell Labs partner, Carrier Global Corporation, makes it sound as if they are looking for a way to integrate server cooling more closely with the HVAC system so that waste heat can be reused.

    Not a bad idea. Not an easy thing either.

  3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    First they came for Facebook...

    ...and I said nothing (but I did cheer silently!)

    Then they came for Twitter, and still I said nothing.

    (Someone suggested killing Truth Social, but realised it wasn't worth the effort!)

    Suddenly, the cooling costs of data centres halved, and the world was a happier, cooler and more energy efficient place where productivity had doubled for no extra energy expenditure.

  4. Potemkine! Silver badge

    There are several ways to work on this:

    - being more energy-efficient to cool a datacenter

    - reuse the heat generated instead of throwing it into the environment.

    I know by experience there are plenty of ideas and things to do on both these fields. It's a good thing there's funding coming. It shouldn't be in the US only, are there are datacenters everywhere and the question is global.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I'm fairly sure I read somewhere, possibly this very publication, that some data centre somewhere exhausts it heat into an adjoining commercial sized greenhouse. That does, in hindsight, seem an obvious solution for efficiency in colder or temperate climes where data centres are often located precisely because of the colder ambient air. Reducing "air miles" on tropical fruit by growing locally with "free" heat, for just one example.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Put the greenhouse on the roof of the data centre and both benefit: greenhouse reduces solar heating of the datacenter and greenhouse soil benefits from passive heating due to heat naturally rising from the datacenter.

  5. Dave 15 Silver badge

    district heating?

    How many megawatts of energy are being wasted here? Surely we can use it to heat homes, or factories, or any number of things

  6. sreynolds Silver badge

    Rubber car tires?

    That and the rubber boots. That's the best thing that Nokia did with cheap power and/or heating.

  7. Wormy

    Only $2M?

    This is an interesting problem, and one that would be nice to solve. I have to wonder, why is an organization the size of DoE only throwing $2M at it? That's less than the cost of one rack full of high-spec servers, and the savings to the USG alone could easily be tens of millions of dollars (or more) annually if they get it right.

    It seems like a $2M investment is meant to show they're doing something, rather than being meant to actually do something.

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