Exploring the Difference of Nautilus’ Water Heat Sink Technology in the Data Center

Infographic on the Nautilus data center cooling technology
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“So, you’re just liquid cooling, right?” …  “What’s the difference between your technology and direct-to-chip or immersion?” … “Maybe you’re a little different, but do those differences matter?”

As we’ve talked to potential colocation customers and data center industry experts, we’re frequently asked how the Nautilus cooling technology is different from “liquid cooling” in a data center. And we completely get it – we’ve introduced new technology. And new approaches to existing problems can be challenging to communicate, but we think we can do it in a simple way.

First, let’s start by talking about the differences between heat rejection at a micro level and a macro level. When we’re thinking about micro level heat rejection, we’re exploring all the ways to get heat out of data center devices — servers, storage, networking, and the like. At the macro level, we’re thinking about ways to remove heat from a data hall. In both cases, there’s an energy transfer medium, like air or water, and the energy transfer medium could be the same at both micro and macro levels.

Nautilus works at the macro level by offering water-based heat sink cooling, and that’s a unique approach that gives us distinctive advantages over any other data center cooling method.

Cooling the Data Center

Traditionally, data centers cool at both the micro and macro level with air.

On the micro side, let’s go into an individual server as an example, modern servers contain multiple processors, solid-state drives, RAM modules, and high-speed networking devices. All semiconductors in a server are typically designed to operate at ambient temperatures between 0C and 70C with custom heat sinks to extract the heat produced by the device and multiple fans to produce airflow that removes the heat and ensures the devices operate within design parameters. Without chilled air at the front of the server, the server fans would be unable to cool the devices and rapidly overheat and shut down. Within the server room, where we can see (and feel) all the heat generated by the servers, storage and network gear would cook the room (and the hardware) without chilled air.

That brings us to the macro side. Somewhere in the building, a computer room air conditioner (CRAC) is blowing the cooled air into the server room. There, it’s drawn in by server fans, blown over the hot components, heated, ejected from the servers and the rack, and finally brought back to the CRAC. The hot air from server rooms throughout the building are brought into the CRACs, using a heat exchanger and compressed refrigerant, the heat is pushed out of the building using more air. There’s a loop for cool air to and from the server rooms, and another loop for hot air that’s ejected from the building. Another macro option is using a CRAH. The CRAH takes the chilled incoming air from the evaporative chiller and pushes it through the data hall. The warm air is just dispelled out or pulled out using fans through the roof.

At the macro level, data centers with liquid cooling combine all the micro-level liquid from all the data center systems and then pump them to a central location for cooling. But here’s where they often make a mistake.

Most of them transfer the heat in the cooling liquid to air, using a heat pump, into a refrigerant loop, and then pump hot refrigerant out of the building, blow air over it, and expel masses of hot air out of the building. Others pump the heat, using refrigerant, to enormous evaporative coolers that take potable water, pump heat into it, and then evaporate it into the atmosphere, carrying heat away. Those phase changes from liquid to air are inefficient, require extra power, and force designs that use very large amounts of exhaust air or water to cope with the concentrated heat in the liquid (remember, liquid holds thousands of times more heat than air can).

So is there a way to improve? We believe that’s where Nautilus comes in. We do liquid cooling at both micro and macro levels, and we keep all the liquids liquid.

Instead of taking heat from a liquid and putting it into the air, we take heat from a cooling liquid and put it into water using a heat exchanger. Then we pump the warmer water (about 4-6 degrees Fahrenheit, in our design) into a natural body of water, a river, or a sea. We use natural water as a data center sized heat sink.

What are the advantages of the Nautilus method?

  1. We ideally keep heat in a liquid all the time, but always at the macro level.
  2. We avoid the inefficiency of phase changes. We don’t have to convert a liquid into a gas like a heat pump or an evaporative chiller does.
  3. We don’t blast very hot air out of a data center.
  4. We don’t waste water by converting liquid water into water vapor.
  5. We don’t use drinking water for evaporative cooling. We can use greywater, discharge from water treatment plants, or natural water, including saltwater.
  6. Our approach is as thermodynamically efficient as possible, with subsequent cost and reliability efficiencies.

The Nautilus approach also has another advantage. With CRACs, CRAHs, and other technologies, it’s usual to push or pull air over dozens of feet. With immersion cooling, it is usual to pump the viscous hydrocarbons used over hundreds of feet before getting them to a heat exchanger. Our designers put the heat exchanger as close to the heat source as possible, cutting the energy needed to pump micro-level air, glycol, or oil.

And while the ideal way (most efficient way) is to keep both micro and macro heat in liquid, Nautilus works with any micro-level cooling technology. We can take micro-level air and put that heat into water. We can take direct to chip liquid and put that heat into water. We can take heat from immersion-cooled servers and put that heat into water.

We also have within-data center cooling advantages that air can’t match. For example, in one of our data centers, we supply water that’s 70 degrees F to a 15-kilowatt rack and cool it. At that point, the water is 85F, which is still cool enough to cool another rack.

Our approach minimizes the environmental approach in a way other technologies can’t. All the other mechanical cooling approaches use large amounts of water, produce large amounts of hot air, and typically use polluting coolants. Our approach makes natural water four degrees warmer than it was. That’s it.

So you’ve seen the advantages of what we can do, but the critical takeaway is a simple one: most people who claim to be doing liquid cooling are only using liquid for part of the equation. We do it all. Our water heat sink tech makes a difference.

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Chad Romine

Chad Romine has over two decades of experience in technical and strategic business development. As Vice President of Business Development for Nautilus Data Technologies, Mr. Romine brings global connectivity to some of the most prominent global influencers in technology. Mr. Romine has led startups and under-performing companies to successful maturity built largely upon solid partnerships. Proven results in negotiating mutually beneficial strategic alliances and joint ventures. Outside of work, Chad has invested time fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Mr. Romine recently helped secure funding and led marketing for the completion of a new private University.

Ashley Sturm

Ashley Sturm is a marketing and strategy leader with more than 15 years of experience developing strategic marketing initiatives to increase brand affinity, shape the customer experience, and grow market share. As the Vice President of Marketing at Nautilus Data Technologies, Ashley is responsible for all global marketing initiatives; she integrates the corporate strategy, marketing, branding, and customer experience to best serve clients and produce real business results. Before joining Nautilus Data Technologies, she served as the Senior Director of Marketing Brand and Content for NTT Global Data Centers Americas, spearheading marketing efforts to open two out of six data center campuses. Prior to NTT, Ashley led global marketing through the startup of Vertiv’s Global Data Center Solutions business unit, where she developed the unit’s foundational messaging and established global and regional marketing teams. Ashley’s career experience includes extensive work with the US Navy through the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness as well as broadcast journalism. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in converged media from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Paul Royere

Paul Royere is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Nautilus Data Technologies. For more than twenty years, he has specialized in finance and administration leadership for emerging technology companies, guiding them through high growth commercialization. In addition to senior team roles guiding strategic business operations, Mr. Royere has directed cross-functional teams in implementing business support systems, designing and measuring business plan performance, leading pre/post-merger activities, and delivering requisite corporate, tax and audit compliance.

While at 365 Data Centers, Mr. Royere served as Vice President of Finance leading a multi-discipline restructuring in preparation for the successful sale of seventeen data centers. As Vice President and Corporate Controller at Reliance Globalcom, Royere led the finance and business support teams to and through the conversion from a privately held company to a subsidiary of an international public conglomerate.

Arnold Magcale

Arnold Magcale is founder and Chief Technology Officer of Nautilus Data Technologies. As a recognized leader and respected visionary in the technology industry, he specializes in data center infrastructure, high-availability networks, cloud design, and Software as a Service (SaaS) Technology.

While serving on the management team of Exodus Communications, he launched one of Silicon Valley’s first data centers. Mr. Magcale’s background includes executive positions at Motorola Mobility, where his team deployed the first global Droid devices, and LinkSource Technologies and The Quantum Capital Fund, serving as Chief Technology Officer. He was an early adopter and implementer of Cloud Computing and a member of the team at Danger, Inc., acquired by Microsoft.

Mr. Magcale had a distinguished ten year career in the United States Navy Special Forces. His military and maritime expertise provided the foundation for inventing the world’s first commercial waterborne data center.

Patrick Quirk

Patrick Quirk is a business and technology executive who specializes in operations management, strategic partnerships, and technology leadership in data center, telecommunications, software, and semiconductor markets. Prior to joining Nautilus, he spent the past year working with small businesses and non-profits on survival and growth strategies in addition to PE advisory roles for critical infrastructure acquisitions. Quirk was the President of Avocent Corp, a subsidiary of Vertiv, the Vice President and General Manager for the IT Systems business, and the VP/GM of Converged Systems at Emerson Network Power, providing data center management infrastructure for data center IT, power, and thermal management products. He has held numerous global leadership roles in startups and large multinational companies including LSI and Motorola in the networking and semiconductor markets.

Rob Pfleging

Most recently, Rob was the Senior Vice President of Global Solutions at Vertiv Co, formerly Emerson Network Power. Vertiv Co is an international company that designs, develops and maintains critical infrastructures that run vital applications in data centers, communication networks and commercial and industrial facilities. Rob was responsible for the global solutions line of business at ​​Vertiv, which serves the Americas, Europe and Asia. Prior to Vertiv, Rob was the Vice President of Expansion and Innovation, Datacenter Engineering at CenturyLink, where he was responsible for 55 datacenters across North America, Europe and Asia. Before working for CenturyLink, Rob was the Executive Director of Computer/Data Center Operations at Mercy, where he led datacenter engineering and operations, desktop field services, call center services, and asset management and logistics for more than 40 hospitals. Before fulfilling this mission at Mercy, Rob held various engineering management and sales positions at Schneider Electric. Rob Pfleging additionally served for 6 years in the United States Marine Corps.

James Connaughton

James Connaughton is a globally distinguished energy, environment, technology expert, as both corporate leader and White House policymaker. Mr. Connaughton is the CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies, a high-performance, ultra-efficient, and sustainable data center infrastructure company powered by its proprietary water-cooling system. Before joining Nautilus Data Technologies, he served as Executive Vice President of C3.ai, a leading enterprise AI software provider for accelerating digital transformation.

From 2009-2013, Mr. Connaughton was Executive Vice President and a member of the Management Committee of Exelon and Constellation Energy, two of America’s cleanest, competitive suppliers of electricity, natural gas, and energy services. In 2001, Mr. Connaughton was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to serve as Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He served as President George W. Bush’s senior advisor on energy, environment, and natural resources, and as Director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy. During his eight-year service, Mr. Connaughton worked closely with the President, the Cabinet, and the Congress to develop and implement energy, environment, natural resource, and climate change policies. An avid ocean conservationist, Mr. Connaughton helped establish four of the largest and most ecologically diverse marine resource conservation areas in the world.

Mr. Connaughton is a member of the Advisory Board of the ClearPath Foundation and serves as an Advisor to X (Google’s Moonshot Factory) and Shine Technologies, a medical and commercial isotope company. He is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Resources for the Future and a member of the Advisory Boards at Yale’s Center on Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia’s Global Center on Energy Policy.