Overclocking processors is a common enough tweak for computer enthusiasts. Not so much in the data center, though. Why? First, no sysadmin will risk a server’s stability or voiding the warranty on an expensive piece of hardware. Also, why put added strain on a facility’s cooling systems?
Enter liquid cooling. Submerging computer hardware into inert liquids (mineral oil, Flourinert, etc.) allows for massive levels of heat dissipation, which in turn lets PC owners crank up the clock settings on their processors and improve performance — sometimes to ridiculous heights. It’s an old trick in the PC hardware realm, but a startup called Green Revolution Computing (GRC) is looking to bring the same benefits to data center operators.
I’ll admit, though intriguing, I initially found the concept a bit of a tough sell from a data center admin’s perspective. The reasons are many, but essentially, a switch to GRC’s server cooling system means tossing whole chapters out of the data center planner’s rulebook. Sure, the costs savings are astounding, but is it worth the upheaval in data center operations?
The answer is inching closer to “yes.”
HPCwire’s recent profile on Green Revolution Cooling gives us another reason to consider the tech: massive performance gains. Imagine saving energy and squeezing more processing power out of existing servers — that could be a compelling reason to give it a shot:
If you’re looking for performance, the GRC rack allows you to overclock the processors without worrying about melting the server. An NSF-funded study found that cranking up the clock by 50 percent on an Intel Nehalem CPU inside a GRC-cooled server yielded a 27 percent performance boost on Linpack, while keeping the CPU temperature at a comfortable 76F. The server cost per gigaflop was reduced by about 50 percent. *(See update at the end of this post.)
Suddenly, businesses get a lot more bang for their buck without resorting to exotic new server architectures (liquid-cooling aside). And about that warranty… Sure, Dell won’t take kindly to the practice, but GRC has contracted with a third-party support organization to pick up the slack, so the risk is minimized.
Will IT shops bite? GRC still has some convincing to do, but the prospect of getting 27 percent more processing power for the price, while saving a bundle on cooling, sure sounds like a sweet deal. Any takers?
*Update: According to GRC, its figures differ from those found in HPCwire’s article. Here they are :
Overclocked by 50%
Got 45% higher Linpack score
CPU temp at 75 C (NOTE: Celsius, not F).