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Server Cooling Startup Wins VC Funding

A UK-based startup recently won a venture capital infusion of $10 million for its approach to keeping data center hardware cool. Iceotope's direct liquid cooling technology works by continuously flushing a server's interior with 3M's Novec fluid, which doesn't conduct electricity but is highly efficient at removing heat.

The server cooling company's funding was led by clean-tech specialist Aster Capital. The funding also will enable Iceotope to work closely with one of Aster's strategic sponsors, Schneider Electric.

Andrew Donoghue, a senior analyst at 451 Research who's working on a report on direct liquid cooling that's due to be released in late March, said via email that he's seeing growing market interest in the technology's potential to improve the performance and efficiency of high-performance computing systems and cloud datacenters, in particular.

Other companies selling liquid cooling technology include Asetek, Chilldyne, and LiquidCool Solutions.

Donoghue suggested that the collaborative support of Schneider, which is likely to legitimize direct liquid cooling technology with data center operators, might be even more valuable than the funding. For instance, Schneider could help Iceotope establish direct liquid cooling standards.

Direct liquid cooling also fits nicely into the rising interest in renewable forms of energy, as the waste heat removed during the process could be redirected into building or district heating systems. In fact, Donoghue said he expects Iceotope to contribute thoughts on this topic for an upcoming European Union project called RenewIT, an effort to create a simulation tool that will evaluate the performance impact of integrating various sources of renewable energy into data centers.

[Read how energy efficiency is one of the areas datacenters operators will continue to focus on this year in "3 Datacenter Trends To Watch in 2014."]

"Even air-cooling apologists will admit that if the clock could be turned back, liquid may have been the more efficient choice to cool data centers," he said. "But the real issue is not whether liquid is more theoretically efficient than air, but whether a convincing economic case can be made."

Along those lines, Iceotope will have to overcome considerable obstacles to direct liquid cooling being used in enterprise datacenters. Donoghue said there are widespread concerns about maintenance and uptime, and the technology needs the backing of recognized server OEMs such as Dell, HP and Fujitsu.

"But most importantly, the long-awaited spike in densities in enterprise data centers will need to finally materialize," Donoghue said.

Until that happens, he expects most venture funds to target datacenter management tools rather than power and cooling infrastructure.