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HP debuts water-cooling system

Where Hewlett-Packard once talked to its customers' IT departments, it has now looped in facilities as well. The subject: energy costs. Photo: Hewlett-Packard's cooler

Hewlett-Packard plans to begin selling a water-cooling system next week to address the power and heat problems that new technology inflicts on computer administrators.

The Modular Cooling System attaches to the side of an HP rack of computing gear, providing a sealed chamber of cooled air separated from the rest of a data center, said Paul Perez, vice president of storage, networking and infrastructure for HP's Industry Standard Server group.

"We used to talk to IT" when approaching customers, Perez said. But because of the power issue, "now we're talking to IT and facilities together. The customers ask, 'What should our power budget be over next three years?' After the sticker shock for energy costs, they say, 'How is HP going to help get the cost down?'"

liquid cooling

The system lets a rack consume as much as 30 kilowatts of power--about three times what would be possible otherwise--without posing problems to a data center's cooling systems, Perez said. However, the cooling system also requires a connection to an external chilled-water system to cool its water.

Liquid cooling, used in vintage computers from companies such as Control Data Corp. and Cray, is experiencing a comeback because of new technology challenges. Processors are consuming more electricity and being packed more densely, and electricity costs to pay for that power and for air conditioning have been increasing.

Chipmakers and server makers are working on improving computers' performance per watt, but in the meantime, liquid cooling can help. Blade server maker Egenera, IBM and Silicon Graphics offer cooling systems that chill air pumped out of the back of a computer rack. HP's system, by contrast, recirculates the same air within that rack, Perez said.

A successor to the modular computing system will chill the air of an entire row of racks, Perez said. That product is due out by the end of the first quarter of 2007.

Liquid cooling means administrators require new expertise, and the cooling system won't appeal to everyone, Perez said. But he's bullish about its prospects: "I don't think you'll see tens of thousands of these things in the immediate future, but can say we've revised our forecasts upward 3 or 4 times in last few months," he said.

The cooling system, expected to be launched on Feb. 6, requires HP's 10000 G2 Universal Rack, a new $1,200 model that replaces seven nonstandard rack models the company used for its products until now. For example, a customer using ProLiant x86 servers and Integrity Itanium servers would have had to purchase separate racks for each type of equipment, Perez said.

Later this year, HP plans to release a cooling system retrofit kit so it can be attached to the older 10000 G1 racks, used to house ProLiant servers, Perez added.

HP's remote monitoring software can be used to control the cooling system and capture alerts for events such as overheating.