Microsoft is experimenting with boiling liquid to cool data center servers

Shawn Knight

Posts: 13,282   +132
Staff member
The big picture: In an earlier analysis, Microsoft found that two-phase immersion cooling can reduce the power consumption of a server by as much as 15 percent. The company also anticipates that servers in the immersion tank could experience a reduced failure rate due to the lack of humidity and corrosive effects of oxygen in the air.

Moore’s Law may have slowed in recent years but the demand for increasingly powerful computer hardware hasn’t skipped a beat. To keep up, hardware makers are progressively feeding processors more juice which has naturally resulted in hotter chips.

“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, distinguished engineer and vice president of Microsoft’s data center advanced development group. It’s why the Redmond tech giant is now exploring the use of alternative cooling methods to prevent overheating.

At one of its data centers on the eastern bank of the Columbia River, Microsoft is testing a technique called two-phase immersion cooling. Inside a specially crafted steel holding tank is server hardware submerged in a non-conductive fluid from 3M that is engineered to boil at 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the hardware heats up, it prompts the fluid to boil. The rising vapor then comes in contact with a chilled condenser in the tank’s lid, causing the vapor to change back into a liquid and rain down into the tank, thus creating a closed-loop cooling system.

The cooling coils in the tank’s lid are connected to a separate system that transfers heat from the tank to an external cooler.

Microsoft plans to test the viability of the tech over the next several months. “This first step is about making people feel comfortable with the concept and showing we can run production workloads,” Belady said.

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Posts: 5,028   +5,638
Maybe they should let the liquid boil, turn to steam and drive a turbine like a nuclear reactor LOL.

(Yes I know, it’s extremely inefficient)


Posts: 346   +201
Cool tech, but as a Data Center Admin I don't look forward to having to deal with a mess of liquid every time hardware maintenance needs to be done.
I would expect that this will be used for operations acting on a scale where you don't do (physical) maintenance, you just replace a cluster of servers after a certain number of them fail.


Posts: 187   +46
This isn’t exactly new. Well, the immersion part any way.
Extreme over lockers have played with non-conductivity oils for more than a decade.

And I have seen this method before. Though they used an AC unit to cool the top of the case.
Also not efficient but it works.

Nice to see a big name finally looking into it.


Posts: 187   +46
Yeah OK M$ lets just steal another companies tech and make out we're the first to do it meanwhile back in 2018 ZTE were showing off an immersed server working quite happily
It’s considerably older than that. I believe I first read about oil tanking in CPU (Computer Power User). In the mid 2000s I know Xtreme PC and HiFiPlus covered the method around 2010 or so.
I can’t recall when or where but I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere earlier. Like 70s or 80s earlier. Some sort of one-off rig. may have been in PopSci or PopMech.

despite who takes credit it’s still nice to see a major player finally take a look at it.