02 Jun Dell’s Cooling Innovation For Scale-Out Computing

At Dell’s Enterprise Innovation Days conference, Dell’s Extreme Scale Infrastructure (ESI) group publicly unveiled their new liquid cooling solution, ‘Triton’. Let’s dive into what this could mean for some of Dell’s scale-out datacenter customers. The ‘Triton’ design represents the culmination of more than 6 years of design and evolution; ‘Triton’ achieves a performance level for CPU-intensive workloads that is simply not available using traditional air-cooled means. These workloads include HPC verticals such as oil and gas, research labs, gaming, financial services (specifically high-frequency trading), large data search and the like. Below is a very high-level summary of ‘Triton’. My colleague Gina Longoria and I wrote a detailed description of ‘Triton’ and discussed potential benefits for customers in a paper here.


Dell ‘Triton’ Server Sled (Source: Dell)

Datacenter power efficiency

Customers strive to attain the best possible total cost of ownership (TCO) in their datacenter. This makes ‘Triton’s’overall thermal behavior equally as important as workload performance by saving on operating expense through improved power efficiency. ‘Triton’ achieves a power utilization effectiveness (PUE) from 1.026 to 1.029 (depending on water source), compared to typical modern datacenters where the PUE can be anywhere from 1.4 to 2.0 for older environments. Because of its unique design, ‘Triton’ can use almost any source of facility water, from the cooling tower water to a chilled water distribution system; the only requirement is that the water comply with ASHREA guidelines.

Most existing water-cooled systems are actually hybrid systems using water to cool major components and requiring cool air for the remainder of the system. ‘Triton’ directly addresses this situation with a bank of fans and associated cooling coils; the air used to cool these components is circulated through this manifold and cooled before it reenters the room. In fact, ‘Triton’ can overcool and serve as a source of cooled air for other equipment in the immediate area. This can reduce or eliminate costs associated with provisioning and operating additional air cooing equipment, as ‘Triton’ does not add thermal load.

What’s old is new again

Bringing water into a data center is a sign that what’s old is new again. The original mainframes of the mid 1960s were water-cooled, and the industry actually became quite adept at it. Still, this prospect can be alarming to some, and thus this solution is probably not for everyone. However, ‘Triton’ has another set of unique capabilities for those looking for this type of performance. The Dell team focused on making this transition seamless and safe. All of the fluid connections are dripless safety connections, each including the necessary redundancy to avoid outage and for service during operation. There is also an extensive detection system for alerts / remediation and a redundant filtration system that can arrest problems that might occur in the water source.

With an eye to the future, Dell is currently evaluating a “closed loop” version of ‘Triton’. It could offer the same core liquid cooling technology and CPU support but remove the need for datacenters to have facility water to the rack. This has the potential to bring liquid cooling to an even broader set of scale-out customers beyond HPC verticals (oil and gas, research labs, gaming, financial services, large data search, etc.).

If you have a large-scale datacenter environment where your workload requires the highest possible CPU performance—while attaining the best possible total cost of ownership—then ‘Triton’ may be just the thing for you. A more detailed description of this system and potential benefits for customers is available here.