Liquid Cooling: The Winning Solution
for Data Centers

By: Kelley Mullick, PhD

Demand for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and other power-hungry workloads — in tandem with rising concerns over data center sustainability — are ushering in a new era of liquid cooling in data centers.

While traditional air-cooled systems struggle to keep pace with CPU and GPU advancements required for high-performance computing (HPC) and the rising thermal output of IT equipment, liquid cooling is emerging as the favored solution for solving these challenges while also boasting major efficiency and sustainability benefits.

Once regarded as a niche solution, liquid cooling adoption is reaching an inflection point. A recent study by The Register of 800+ IT professionals indicates liquid cooling is primed for substantial growth in the coming years. More than 38 percent of survey respondents said they plan to employ liquid cooling by 2026, up from 20.1 percent in early 2024. As a result, the data center liquid cooling market is expected to triple to $10.61 billion by 2028, surpassing air cooling as a clear favorite among operators.

Technological and Ideological Shifts Driving
the Need for Liquid Cooling

Advancements in technology — such as the rapid expansion of artificial intelligence (AI), the widespread implementation of 5G networks, and the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices — are collectively driving demand for liquid cooling solutions. These technologies generate substantial heat due to their intensive computational requirements and data processing loads. Furthermore, the trend towards higher rack densities in data centers exacerbates heat generation, necessitating more efficient cooling mechanisms.

Advanced workloads also require more processing to be completed at the edge where data is created. Open RAN and far-edge computing, as well as cloud computing environments, double down on the need for high-performance compute, high-density server deployment and efficient cooling to deal with the additional heat generation. Traditionally favored air-cooled systems simply cannot handle the increased heat output of advanced workloads and edge deployments, leading to issues with server performance and reliability.

Liquid cooling addresses these challenges by offering superior thermal management capabilities compared to traditional air-cooled methods. By directly contacting heat-generating components with a cooling liquid, liquid cooling efficiently dissipates heat, ensuring optimal performance and reliability in modern data center environments.

Also, operators are placing more emphasis on the importance of sustainability in their operations than ever. Sustainability isn’t a singular problem we can engineer our way out of, but rather a broader tapestry encompassing energy efficiency, carbon, IT infrastructure, and renewable energy sources. Adopting sustainable practices like liquid cooling is a key first step for operators. By continuing to explore and invest in new technologies in the liquid cooling arena — like Precision Liquid Cooling — operators will see benefits beyond carbon reduction, such as fostering client attraction and retention, which will continue to drive further adoption of sustainable technologies in the long term.

Exploring Liquid Cooling Options

There are various types of liquid cooling being implemented in the data center industry, but not all solutions are the same.

Cold-plate cooling technology involves metal plates absorbing heat from electronic components, transferring it to a cooling fluid like water or dielectric liquid. This fluid circulates through a closed-loop system, releasing heat into the environment or another cooling system, maintaining optimal component temperatures. While effective, cold-plate setups can be complex and costly, especially for custom designs requiring rigid metal tubing. Implementing cold-plate cooling in large data centers with diverse setups can present challenges, including complex maintenance and training needs.


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