HP looks to keep systems cool

Addressing the growing problem of heat dissipation in chips and systems, Hewlett-Packard Co. on Tuesday announced it is working on a suite of technologies to address heat generation and energy use in increasingly powerful microprocessors and data centres.

HP’s proposed solutions include everything from reinventing the company’s inkjet technology for cooling semiconductors to heat-sensing robots that patrol data centres, looking for ways to optimize energy use and reduce costs, according to HP.

“We need to come up with clever means of cooling the data center and clever means of cooling the chip,” said Chandrakant Patel, principal scientist for thermo-mechanical architecture at HP Labs.

The inkjet printing cartridge is being re-engineered to serve as a cooling device for chips, dispensing dieletric liquid coolant in a closed-loop system onto specific areas of a processor. Liquid vaporizes on impact and cools the chip, whereupon vapour is then passed through a heat exchanger and pumped back into a reservoir that feeds the cooling device, HP said.

The company noted that as semiconductors become more powerful, the amount of heat generation has increased significantly. Chips just an eighth of an inch square will soon emit as much heat as a 100-watt light bulb, HP said.

Inkjet-based cooling technology is expected to be in HP servers in two to three years and in desktops in three to five years. It is not expected to appear in laptops. The technology does not involve the use of off-the-shelf inkjet cartridges.

HP Labs also developed a system to model heat distribution throughout a planned data centre. Currently, it takes about five megawatts of electric power to remove 10 megawatts of heat, Patel said.

“What we’re trying to do in this data centre of tomorrow is to provide the right amount of cooling where it’s needed,” he said.

HP is calling its dynamic allocation of workloads and cooling its “smart cooling” strategy. The plan would save US$1 million a year in energy expenses for a 15-megawatt data centre, according to the company.

Part of HP’s data centre plan is its heat-sensing robot, expected to ship in approximately a year. The unit travels around a data centre, taking measurements of heat and using a wireless system to send input back into the cooling system so adjustments can be made. The wheeled robot device, demonstrated here at HP Labs, would replace the need to have a technician roam the data centre.

Further down the road, HP is planning an Energy Manager system, which would distribute workloads around to different systems to maximize energy and heat efficiency. The Energy Manager software is due in about three years.

Eventually, HP would like to use technologies such as grid computing to enable computing to be performed in the most ideal location on a global basis, Patel explained. For example, a user connecting remotely to an HP data centre might have processing done at a location in India when the weather is hot in California, Patel said.

“What we’re saying is move your computing [around] based on the best, cheapest computing available globally,” he said.

HP officials said it was too early to tell if the cooling technologies would be licensed to any other vendors. While the inkjet plan might involve working with Intel Corp., the plan would not require that Intel add the technology to its own chips.

HP already has two patents on its cooling plan, one for cooling of heat sources and the other for its thermal inkjet technology, and is seeking about two dozen more, company officials said.