Oil bath, anyone? Intel servers take a dip

In Eastern cultures, taking an oil bath is part of a weekly ritual which is supposed to relax, restore and cool down the body.

But what about applying the same concept to data centers? Could it be cooled using mineral oil?

That's literally what Intel has done at its Rio Rancho facility in New Mexico -- dunked them in oil and kept them there.

After engaging in some experimentation, the company is recommending it as a viable option for to use for data center cooling, as energy bills can comprise a big portion of overheads. It says the mineral oil's cooling effect improves energy efficiency and reduces energy costs.

According to Intel, the practice also helps improve server performance, which enables them to run faster.

The chip maker's Rio Rancho data center hosts large supercomputers for the state of New Mexico. As the center had the space and experienced personnel necessary to conduct the experiment, it was an ideal location to host the experiment.

The oil bath experiment

Seven servers were placed in large vats of mineral oil and stood up on end, with the oil circulating through the servers to remove heat. They were compared for a year with seven other servers that had air cooling, with the same workloads running through both batches.

Intel found that it needed only 2 to 3 percent more energy to cool them on top of the energy needed to run them, instead of the 60 percent additional energy that's typically required for air-cooling servers.

At the end of the yearlong experiment, the company took the servers apart and conducted failure analysis. The oil did not damage the servers or cause any problem.

Photo of server in mineral oil bath provided by Intel

Next page: Why oil?