Thermal Rail™ changes the foundation of the Data Center, and just as a bad foundation will cause problems, a good foundation yields many benefits, some of them unexpected.
Here we list some of the benefits that a shift away from air cooling to Thermal Rail™ brings to the table.
The golden rule for developing Thermal Rail™ was to focus on total cost of ownership (TCO) above all else. This rule was followed for all components and leads to some clear financial benefits.
When taking full advantage of features unique to Thermal Rail™, the manufacture of fanless and reduced-cost server designs are made possible and a conservative analysis estimates significant savings for even the most advanced Data Centers in operation today.
Source data available here.
The above data was produced by performing an analysis of the costs involved in deploying a variety of Data Centers operating with different power usage effectiveness (PUE). The analysis primarily focused on savings generated by switching to Thermal Rail™, including server and enclosure costs, server operating costs (electrical), and server cooling costs.
Low Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE)
When discussing the benefits of a cooling technology in a Data Center, the key performance indicator PUE, is among one of the first metrics typically asked for.
Our proof-of-concept hardware presently contributes about 0.02 to PUE. Meaning that a Data Center using high-efficiency power distribution with losses of only 6% could potentially enjoy a PUE of 1.08. This compares favorably to best-in-class Data Centers which typically have a PUE of less than 1.2 and is far better than the 1.8 for an average Data Center. For savings estimates using PUE as a base, see Cost Savings above.
Vitally, the efficiency obtained by Thermal Rail™ is turnkey. Meaning that anybody deploying a Thermal Rail™ based Data Center can enjoy superior efficiency to today's best-in-class Data Centers just by turning it on.
This PUE figure includes the entire cooling solution from heat-generating component (e.g., CPU) to final heat rejection (e.g., cooling tower or air exhaust), so for an apples-to-apples comparison it must be pointed out that part of the cooling solution for a modern air-cooled Data Center, the fans within the servers, are normally not represented in a Data Center's PUE figures. When these fans are included, up to an additional 0.1 must be added to an air-cooled Data Center's PUE.
Higher Density and Reduced Real-Estate Needs
Each Thermal Rail™ interface can remove at least 2.5 kW and up to 5 kW of heat in a 1U form factor. For a 42U 19" rack which has a Thermal Rail™ interface on either side, that yields a cooling capacity of up to 420 kW per rack, which is a 10x increase in cooling density for even a high density Data Center using 40 kW racks today. That translates to a 10x smaller Data Center.
Furthermore, a fully populated Thermal Rail™ enclosure doesn't need air-flow through the server to cool. Therefore, aisles are no longer required on both sides of the enclosure as access is only required on one side.
In fact, by using backplanes and minimizing the use of cabling, it is possible to develop an archival type enclosure system that can greatly increase the density further.
These density increases all contribute to savings in real estate and are especially valuable in dense environments such as London, New-York, Tokyo, and Singapore where real estate is expensive and the need for data access is highest.
Movable Archive Storage System
Waste Heat Recycling
Thermal Rail™ provides a turn-key capability to recycle the majority of a Data Center's waste heat, and unlike air cooling, there's no efficiency lost via multiple heat exchange steps meaning more value can be extracted with less cost.
And because of the use of a high-temperature coolant (over 30°C/86°F) this waste heat can be directly used to heat a building or greenhouse, saving fuel costs.
However, the waste heat can also be efficiently boosted to over 100°C by heat pumps and cost-effectively sold to industrial users or used as part of a district heating system. Such systems are occasionally deployed using waste heat from air-cooled Data Centers, with Thermal Rail™ it's turn-key.
Another potential use for the waste heat generated by a Thermal Rail™ Data Center is as the heat source for Direct-Air-Capture; removing CO2 from the atmosphere. An analysis of this can be found below in Environmental benefits.
The Bahnhof Thule Data Center in Stockholm is connected to the city's district heating system
Thermal Rail™ is an environmentally friendly technology with many environmental benefits.
Highly Efficient: with a PUE contribution of only 0.02, Thermal Rail™ uses minimal energy when compared to air cooling and other alternative technologies.
Extremely Low Water Use: by using a high-temperature coolant above 30°C/86°F most locations in the world do not need to use evaporative cooling for the majority of the year and by using a coolant temperature of 40°C few locations will need to ever consume water for cooling.
Recyclable Components: present Thermal Rail™ hardware makes use of easy to recycle aluminum parts for key enclosure components minimizing end-of-life waste.
Water-Based Coolant: Thermal Rail™ can use a simple water-based coolant minimizing the potential for pollution.
Waste Heat Recycling: recycling the waste heat generated by the Data Center will avoid the use of energy use in other processes.
Finally, using Thermal Rail™ in combination with technologies under development by companies such as Climeworks and Global Thermostat, the waste heat from a Data Center can be used to directly fight climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
We presently project that Data Centers in at least the U.S. would be capable of profitably removing carbon dioxide, via U.S. tax credit 45Q.
If the entire global Data Center fleet were to convert to Thermal Rail™ and use their waste heat to remove carbon dioxide, by 2025, 0.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere each year at a reasonable cost. To put that figure into perspective, as a planet we produced 32.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2017.
Source data available here.
Location Independent Efficiency
The dominance and use of air cooling has presented many problems, including requiring the need to consider the external environment when deciding where to locate a Data Center. This is due to the effect of the external environment on cooling costs. This requirement often takes priority over business needs such as where the Data Center's users are located.
Through the use of a high-temperature coolant above 30°C/86°F, Thermal Rail™ removes this need, and a Thermal Rail™ Data Center will operate at the same efficiency almost anywhere on the planet. Including in environmentally challenging locations such as Singapore.
This will yield significant cost savings for those Data Centers operating in hot locations, as they will now be able to enjoy the same efficiencies as those Data Centers located in colder climates such as Iceland or Alaska.
Fanless and Mission-Critical Compatible
One of the design goals for Thermal Rail™ was to match or beat air cooling as a safe and reliable cooling technology. By integrating the option for full active-active or passive-active redundancy and by enabling fanless servers with no moving parts we have improved upon the reliability of air-cooling systems
In addition, Thermal Rail™ enclosures are designed to fully isolate the coolant flowing through them from the rest of the Data Center and to fail in such a way that the coolant remains isolated.
Finally, Thermal Rail™ servers are immune to dust and other airborne contaminants and will not require occasional maintenance to remove dust.
View of the Thermal Rail™ proof-of-concept redundant coolant feeds
Backwards Compatibility and Clear Upgrade Path
An important feature of Thermal Rail™ is that it has been designed to be physically backwards compatible with existing air cooled servers, meaning that it is not necessary to decide between Thermal Rail™ or air cooled. Both can co-exist within the same Thermal Rail™ enclosure. For example a Thermal Rail™ deployment in the field can easily comprise a number of fanless Thermal Rail™ servers operating alongside air cooled network equipment or other apparatus.
In addition, Thermal Rail™ can also be designed to work alongside Direct Liquid Cooled systems which have cold-plates connected to heat-producing components such as CPUs. Instead of using quick-disconnects and hoses connected externally, a Thermal Rail™ interface can instead be used to remove the waste heat from the liquid cooled system. Making deployment of Direct Liquid Cooled systems safer and providing a simple method of adapting existing air cooled equipment to be cooled by Thermal Rail™.
Powerful Vibration Free Cooling
CPUs, GPUs, and other discrete devices are getting more and more power hungry and are pushing on the limits of what air cooling can cool. As the trend for more powerful systems continues, this will only get worse.
Fortunately Thermal Rail™ provides cooling which is as powerful as liquid cooling, but without the risk or the cost. With a single Thermal Rail™ interface offering at least 2.5 kW of cooling, a 1U system has more than 5 kW of cooling available. This provides adequate cooling for any system on the market today and will continue to provide adequate cooling in the years ahead.
What's more, because of the way heat is transferred from components to the Thermal Rail™ interface it's simple to achieve rates of cooling that are higher than those achievable by air or in some cases (as shown by our proof-of-concept) direct liquid cooling.