Full submersion of servers in dielectric oils offers an opportunity for significant cooling energy savings and increased power densities for data centers. The enhanced thermal properties of oil can lead to considerable savings in both the upfront and operating costs over traditional air cooling methods. Despite recent findings showing the improved cooling efficiency and cost savings of oil as a cooling fluid, this technique is still not widely adopted. Many uncertainties and concerns persist regarding the non-thermal aspects of an oil immersion cooled data center. This paper presents useful information regarding a variety of factors related to the operation of an oil cooled data center. Pertinent material property considerations such as the chemistry, flammability, material compatibility, human health effects, and sustainability of mineral oil are discussed. A general introduction as to the chemical composition and production of mineral oil is provided. A discussion of the trade-offs in thermal performance and cost of the mineral oil is presented. The dielectric nature of oils is critical to their success as a cooling fluid for electronic applications. Factors such as temperature, voltage, and age that affect this property are reviewed. Flammability of oils is a valid concern when immersing costly IT equipment and the pertinent concerns of this aspect are reviewed. The evaporation loss of oil is also mentioned as refueling and safety are important parameters in the establishment of any facility. Leeching of materials, especially plastics, is a reoccurring concern expressed regarding mineral oil immersed IT equipment. Mineral oils are by-products of petroleum refining processes and as such may bring forth sustainability concerns associated with their use and disposal. The long term stability and performance of key physical and material parameters of oils used in applications such as high voltage power are typically monitored. The similarity and implications of the longevity of oils, when used for data center applications, will be examined. Other issues related to the design, operation, and serviceability of submerged IT equipment and racks will also be addressed. Switching to an oil immersion cooled data center typically brings about several designs and operational changes compared to a typical air-cooled approach. A critical element of oil cooling often cited by opponents of the technology is the issue of serviceability of IT equipment. This paper will discuss some of the additional features a data center may need in place to help alleviate these concerns, as well as, best practices based on experience and observations by the authors. This paper also includes Cup Burner Experiment as per ISO 14520/NFPA 2001 standard to determine the minimum design concentration of fire extinguishing agent for the class B hazard of heavy mineral oil and the class C hazard of electronic equipment as a part of the safety concerns for oil cooled data centers. The visual observations of the servers after immersion in oil for 8 months are also explained for a better view of the system related issues. The discussion presented here is based primarily on literature gathered on the subject and quantifiable data gathered by the authors.
Design Considerations Relating to Non-Thermal Aspects of Oil Immersion Cooling
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Shah, JM, Rizvi, SHI, Kota, IS, Nagilla, SR, Thakkar, D, & Agonafer, D. "Design Considerations Relating to Non-Thermal Aspects of Oil Immersion Cooling." Proceedings of the ASME 2016 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition. Volume 10: Micro- and Nano-Systems Engineering and Packaging. Phoenix, Arizona, USA. November 11–17, 2016. V010T13A054. ASME. https://doi.org/10.1115/IMECE2016-67320
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