ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - 44

DATA CENTERS
Column
Cryptocurrency Drives
Data Center Innovation
BY DAVID QUIRK, P.E., MEMBER ASHRAE; MICHAEL STABINSKI
Originally thought of as a " dirty data center " technology due to the repurposing of
retired fossil fuel power plants, today's cryptocurrency and blockchain technology is
driving innovation in the data center industry. And, it's pushing the envelope in areas
that traditional data centers haven't. Innovations include new cooling methods, more
clean energy initiatives and an evolving data center architecture.
New Cooling Technology
Historically, cryptocurrency (crypto) mining operations
have been built to be extremely dense and run at
maximum capacity at all times. This approach provides
operators with the greatest chance at profitability (i.e.,
the value of crypto harvested is greater than the energy
consumed).
However, this strategy also introduces the challenge of
dissipating significant heat loads, the magnitude of which
is not typical in traditional data center operations.1 As a
result, crypto mining has led the way to improved, nextgeneration
cooling technologies that are quickly getting
the attention of major players in the data center industry.
In contrast to crypto operations, enterprise and
cloud data centers have not traditionally been run at full
capacity at all times, in large part as a result of demand,
which has fluctuated with workload and users' habits.
That has changed in recent times as a by-product of the
pandemic. The demand on these facilities has skyrocketed
as businesses' and users' activities have changed
(e.g., working with larger data sets, greater adoption
of artificial intelligence [AI], etc.) and more companies
transition to working on the cloud.1
44
ASHRAE JOURNAL ashrae.o rg O CTO B E R 2021
To meet the need for greater performance, the computing
industry as a whole has turned to chip architectures
that can handle greater loads (i.e., increased
server density).2 In fact, a 2020 survey from the Uptime
Institute found that the average density of data center
racks was growing rapidly and that densities of 20 kW
and higher were becoming a reality for more providers.3
Yet, this increase in performance is also inflating the
associated heat load and densities.
At server rack densities exceeding 20 kW, it begins to
become economical to consider alternate cooling mediums
other than traditional air cooling.3 In comparison
to standard air, the convective heat transfer capabilities
of liquids can be orders of magnitude higher. Consider
the adaptation of proven liquid cooling applications
such as those for automobile engines. There are ongoing
efforts to produce an analog of this system in which liquid
is piped through metal plates installed throughout
servers to cool the equipment. Nonetheless, a promising
solution is one that has been pioneered by the crypto
industry: liquid immersion cooling.2
David Quirk, P.E., is a managing principal at DLB and past chair of TC 9.9. Michael
Stabinski is department head of software at DLB.
http://ashrae.org

ASHRAE Journal - October 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ASHRAE Journal - October 2021

Contents
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - Intro
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - Cover1
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - Cover2
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - 1
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - Contents
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - 3
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - 4
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - 5
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - 6
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - 7
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ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR1
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR2
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR3
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR4
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR5
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR6
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR7
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR8
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ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR10
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - HR11
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ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - Cover3
ASHRAE Journal - October 2021 - Cover4
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