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HP Throws Cold Water on x86 Racks

San Jose, Calif. -- In a throwback to the days of the mainframe, Hewlett-Packard Co. today will announce the first water-cooling system for its X86-based server racks. The company is following in the footsteps of other server vendors, which have been quietly pulling together solutions to the growing heat and power problems found in densely packaged back-end computers.

The HP Modular Cooling System essentially is an 8-inch-wide heat exchanger and blower that bolts onto the company's latest 19-inch rack. It provides a source of cold air to the computer without releasing hot air to the data center, opening the door to racks that include twice as many processors and dissipate as much as 30 kilowatts.

Heat flux, the power dissipation per square centimeter on a server processor, has risen from 10 W to 50 W over the last eight years, or about 7 percent/year, a rate that's expected to continue for the foreseeable future. "It looks fairly linear," said Paul Perez, vice president of storage, networking and infrastructure for HP's In- dustry Standard Servers group.

That means a 19-inch rack of X86 servers that used to dissipate 2,000 W has become a 14-kW rack that will ship this year. Over the next three years or so, X86 server racks will dissipate as much as 60 kW, Perez added.

The density advantages continue to outweigh the heat and power issues. With the new cooling system, users could pack 120 racks into a 3,000-square-foot data center for a facilities cost estimated at $7.8 million. Such a setup would otherwise require 720 racks and 10,000 square feet of floor space at a cost of $16 million, Perez estimated.

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