A revolutionary liquid-cooled computer server that could slash the carbon footprint of the internet is being tested at the University of Leeds. While most computers use air to cool their electronics, all of the components in the new server are completely immersed in liquid. The power-hungry fans of traditional computing are replaced by a silent next-generation liquid cooling process that relies on the natural convection of heat.
But the significance of the new Iceotope server lies less in the novelty of its design than in the bite it could take out of the huge electricity demands of the internet servers that form the fabric of our online lives. Its designers calculate that the server cuts energy consumption for cooling by between 80 percent and 97 percent.
While the information industry enjoys an image of hyper efficiency and environmental friendliness, all internet use relies on remote servers, which are usually housed in large data centres that must be constantly cooled to remain operational. The reality is that the mobile apps, networked devices and 24-hour internet access on which we have come to rely are very energy hungry.
A 2011 report by Datacenter Dynamics estimated that the world’s data centres currently use 31 gigawatts of power, the equivalent of about half of the UK’s total peak electricity demand. A 2008 report by McKinsey and Company projected that data centre carbon emissions will quadruple by 2020 and a year-long investigation by the New York Times, published in September, criticized the industry for its energy waste.