Microsoft has been awarded a high pressure data center patent (Patent US10426062), which it believe would enable far more efficient heat transfer than traditional approaches.
According to the filing, some data centers employ heat sinks, electric fans, liquid cooling circuits and liquid immersion baths which are energy consuming, expensive or significantly error-prone. Hence, the patent states that there is a need for systems that can efficiently improve data center cooling without needing expensive additional hardware.
It therefore believes that, such efficient system is a hermetically sealed data center full of high pressure gas.
Microsoft showed in a diagram, the potential benefits of different gases at different pressures on heat transport and fan power:
The gases mentioned include normal air (containing nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide), or inert gases such as pure nitrogen (N2), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and combinations of the above.
It is known that higher pressure makes air denser thereby, increasing its heat capacity. In application, this can amount to significant heat removal from IT systems.
“The gas might be pressurized, according to some embodiments, from at least substantially 2 times standard pressure to substantially 5 times standard pressure” the patent adds.
The patent which is credited to Winston Saunders, manager of advanced data center development at Microsoft, does not discuss the risk of leaks, possibility that the data center is submerged or gives the impression that the human access safety door separates the facility from outside breathable air.
However, the patent details a gas management system that “might, according to some embodiments, automatically perform pressure sensing (is the pressure too low or too high?), gas composition sensing (how pure is the gas?), pressure control (to increase or decrease the pressure), gas composition control (to adjust the composition), and/or control of the human access safety door (e.g. to ensure operator safety).”
Some of Microsoft related works include the Project Natick research initiative, which is an advanced project involving a low-maintenance data center in a pressure vessel.
For the project, the company has submerged a shipping container-sized prototype data center off the coast of the Orkney Islands, Scotland. A 12-rack cylinder Natick, is filled with nitrogen gas. However, the project’s website notes that the system is operated at one atmosphere.