HP unveils initiative to keep cool and save energy

Hewlett-Packard is to work on a suite of technologies to address heat generation and energy use in increasingly powerful...

Hewlett-Packard is to work on a suite of technologies to address heat generation and energy use in increasingly powerful microprocessors and datacentres.

HP's proposed solutions include everything from reinventing the company's inkjet technology for cooling semiconductors to heat-sensing robots that patrol datacentres, looking for ways to optimise energy use and reduce costs.

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. The liquid vaporises on impact and cools the chip, and vapour is then passed through a heat exchanger and pumped back into a reservoir that feeds the cooling device.

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.

Inkjet-based cooling technology is expected to be in HP servers in two to three years' time 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 datacentre. At the moment it takes about five megawatts of electric power to remove 10 megawatts of heat, said Chandrakant Patel, principal scientist for thermo-mechanical architecture at HP Labs.

HP is calling its dynamic allocation of workloads and cooling its "smart cooling" strategy. The company claimed the plan would save $1m a year in energy expenses for a 15-megawatt datacentre.

Part of HP's datacentre plan is its heat-sensing robot, expected to ship in approximately a year. The unit travels around a datacentre, 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 datacentre.

Further down the road, HP is planning an energy manager system that would distribute workloads around to different systems to maximise energy and heat efficiency.

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 datacentre might have processing done at a location in India when the weather is hot in California, Patel 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, the plan would not require Intel to 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.

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