Is 2023 the year for liquid cooling?

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Is 2023 the year for liquid cooling? Looking from outside the industry, you’d think that’s unlikely.

After all, air-cooled data centers are almost universal. Data centers, large and small, mostly use various kinds of air cooling. Whether they’re using refrigerant-based chillers, evaporative cooling, or free air, almost every data center blast cool air through IT equipment in racks and collects the hot air in order to keep servers and storage up and running at peak efficiency.

But everyone in the industry knows that air-cooled data centers aren’t particularly efficient: PUE is stubbornly stuck at 1.55. With the rising costs of power and power distribution and the recognition that “between 30% to 55% of a data center’s energy consumption goes into powering its cooling and ventilation systems,” most leading data centers want cooling that utilizes less power.

That’s where liquid cooling comes in.

There’s ample evidence for interest in liquid cooling as a tool for greater efficiency. The Uptime Institute, in their 2022 Global Data Center Survey, reported that “Performance requirements and expectations around efficiency will likely push a growing number of operators (and their IT tenants) toward direct liquid cooling (DLC). Greater adoption of DLC could contribute to greater efficiency gains through the 2020s and beyond, both in new builds and retrofits. Commercial DLC offerings are likely to mature and standardize, especially as more large operators deploy at scale — as expected.”

This interest in liquid cooling shouldn’t be a surprise. It could be said that the rise of air cooled data centers is an aberration in the history of IT, and it probably shouldn’t have ever happened in the first place.

Early computers were liquid cooled. Ever since the IBM System 360, liquid cooling has been associated with complex, expensive, heavy-duty “Big Iron” infrastructure that cost millions of dollars, required a team of specialists to install it, and generated so much heat (one model required 79 kW/hour of liquid cooling capacity) you could warm an office building with it.

But since the late 1990s, with the advent of x86 based servers, air cooling has been the predominant way to deal with computing heat production. Beginning with commercial or residential air conditioning for server closets and server rooms, air cooling has evolved to the point that we now see tens of thousands of CRACs, widely deployed in data centers of all sizes. Anyone who has stepped into a data center knows that’s it’s filled with loud blasts of chilled air in order to cope with the heat production of servers and other IT equipment. Data center cooling is almost synonymous with chilled air.


It’s possible that the end is in sight for refrigerant based air chillers in the data center. 


  1. Data centers are becoming too hot. Today’s servers, with the hottest processors and GPUs in history, are producing more than 1kW of heat per rack unit — or more than 40kW per rack. Many data centers simply cannot produce enough chilled air to keep those servers from overheating.
  2. Climates are unpredictable. Climate change is making data center cooling a more unpredictable activity. Old assumptions about sizing data center cooling capacity are being thrown out the window, and in the past few years, large data centers have done down during the summer due to cooling failures.
  3. Providers need sustainable efficiency. Also, data center providers, whether hyperscale, colocation, or enterprise, are looking for more economical and sustainable ways to cool data centers.


And that expectation was well-founded. Already, the largest companies have trialed or adopted liquid cooling.

  1. Microsoft rolled out immersion cooling for production workloads back in 2021.
  2. Google has used liquid cooling for some AI workloads since 2018.
  3. Meta recently announced, at the Open Compute Summit, that they have a roadmap for direct-to-chip liquid cooling for AI infrastructure, and they announced a pause on data center construction as they’re working on new designs to accommodate this new AI infrastructure.


Where hyperscalers lead, the rest of the industry will ultimately follow. And they are following.

  1. The market for data center liquid cooling is predicted to grow at a 15% CAGR,
  2. Investors are doubling down on data center cooling.
  3. Established data center infrastructure companies are investing in liquid cooling or launching their own products.
  4. Innovations like the Nautilus approach are being developed and deployed throughout the world.


However, widespread adoption faces some hurdles.

  1. Retrofitting existing air cooled data centers will be complicated, disruptive, and expensive. Smaller data centers will be easier to convert, so we can expect to see more liquid cooling utilization in sub-25,000 square foot data centers.
  2. Supply chain issues still afflict the data center industry. Some vendors are reporting seventy week lead times for chillers.
  3. Server manufacturers are adopting an incremental approach to supporting liquid cooling. Vendors like Dell, Inspur, and Supermicro have some models that are intended for liquid cooling, but many of their models are still intended for conventional air cooled data centers. Other specialist vendors like Hypertec 
  4. Standards for liquid cooling haven’t been fully defined, leading some data center providers toward a wait-and-see approach.


Whether or not 2023 is going to be THE year for liquid cooling, I think we can all agree that it will be an interesting year for liquid cooling. Expect more innovation, more deployment, and ultimately, more advantages for early adopters willing to take a risk on leading-edge cooling for their data centers.

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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, 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.