In the quest to realize a sustainable digital future, OCP members are once again showing that collaboration is key. This time, platinum members Asperitas and US-based ITRenew are teaming up to show how combining immersion cooling and IT recycling can not only enhance the circular economy but help customers realize serious gains in computing power while reducing environmental impact and cutting the total cost of ownership.
Reduce, reuse and recycle. By now, most of us are familiar with the three Rs. But every year, we’re seeing larger amounts of waste, particularly electronic waste, piling up in landfills. In 2019 alone, we reached approximately 54 million metric tons of e-waste globally, with that number only expected to grow due to increased demand of electronics through the Covid-19 pandemic. This is where the US-based ITRenew is looking to do its part to change the game in the datacenter industry.
“Part of ITRenew’s core business is working with large, hyperscale companies, like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Dropbox and many others, to decommission their old datacenter equipment and give it new life,” says Erik Riedel, VP of engineering for ITRenew’s Sesame product line. “These companies are replacing equipment every two to four years, which would typically just be thrown out. Our goal is to take this equipment and create economic value by extending the life of the material and reusing it in the solutions we provide to our customers. In doing this we aim for 80-90 percent re-certified content, which results in our customers saving anywhere from 30-50 percent compared to buying through traditional OEMs – putting a real focus on the circular economy.”
To achieve this, the tech-renewal company processes between 50-100 thousand servers every month, which is slated to reach well over one million in the next 12 months. The decommissioned server equipment is then used in the company’s Sesame product line – a solution of fully-integrated, high-density compute racks, which can be rolled out to their customers to handle the high demands of their datacenter workloads.
During the early stages of Sesame, Riedel traveled to Amsterdam to attend the 2019 OCP Summit. It was at this event where he saw a presentation of the immersion-cooling startup Asperitas. “At that time, immersion cooling was sort of beginning as a topic, but right from the start, the benefits were clear,” recalls Riedel. “A system that enabled an improved carbon footprint, using less energy, needing less space and allowing more computing power. There were so many similarities to our stories, but with our focus on materials and theirs on energy consumption, this was a really good opportunity to connect.”
Asperitas’ CCO Peter Uelen certainly agrees. “For Asperitas, we see immersion cooling as a sustainable way forward for the industry, but our goal isn’t to simply replace one sort of cooling with another. We’re really focused on the optimization of the total system,” he explains. “Of course, lower energy use, no water consumption and high computing capabilities mean something. Sustainability is a core belief and driver within our team. But to reach these ambitions, we realize that we’ll need close cooperation from IT vendors and manufacturers. The fact that ITRenew is also focused on such sustainable efforts creates a wonderful opportunity to collaborate.”
That’s exactly what the two sides have done – collaborate. Holding on to the OCP design standards, the two sides have teamed up to create an integrated solution, which combines ITRenew’s Sesame rack-scale systems with Asperitas’ Immersed Computing solution. This specialized system aims to add value to customers looking to build low-carbon, energy-efficient and high-density platforms, which can be rolled out in virtually any climate zone.
“Within the OCP community, Asperitas CEO Rolf Brink has personally led the immersion cooling workgroup since its conception. At the same time, Asperitas has continued to build upon its expertise on integrating and optimizing IT platforms in immersion cooling solutions. We work closely with OEM and integrator partners and, when possible, we share our experiences in the community,” explains Uelen. “This creates standards and guidelines like the Immersion Requirements document and Design Guidelines for Immersion-Cooled IT Equipment. Another example is our optimized immersion cassette that received the OCP Accepted recognition standard, which is actually the basis for the solution with ITRenew.”
To get the most out of the system and help customers realize the enormous benefits, ITRenew optimized its rack setup design specially for Asperitas’ immersion cooling system. By doing so, this fully integrated, plug-and-play system has much to offer, both in terms of computing capabilities and environmental impact, but also, the all-important bottom line.
“With our immersion cooling technology, we can offer higher-density computing capabilities, all while maintaining a low overhead energy consumption of the components,” describes Uelen. “With immersion, you don’t need all the fans that air racks use, so you can fit more CPUs or GPUs into each rack. Economically, it’s a really strong proposition.”
And he doesn’t mean just a little more, in terms of gains. He’s referring to significant improvements. A typical dense air-cooled rack can fit 48 nodes with a total of 96 CPUs. With the new OCP-based immersion cooling rack design from ITRenew that increases up to 72 nodes, holding 144 CPUs, all in a single module.
In terms of environmental impact, the duo is extremely well aligned. After all, sustainability is at the heart of both sides’ offerings, and those benefits can be seen both in the pre-use and use phase of the system. According to Riedel, studies show that 60-70 percent of the total power consumption of a server stems from when it was created.
“That’s before you even plug the thing into the wall. Being able to extend the life of this equipment and create a circular economy for the components is hugely beneficial,” claims Riedel. “Not just operational savings, which are, of course, also useful. But in the big picture of it all, the whole life of the server, we want to show customers that optimization and sustainability are possible.”
“It’s factors such as these that really sparked our interest in ITRenew. When you couple these benefits, together with ours in reducing energy consumption, and with our abilities to capture and reuse the waste heat, you see that putting a focus on the circular economy is adding value,” highlights Uelen. “Collaborations such as these only make the offering even stronger.”
However, for any innovation to take off, no matter how sustainable, there’s always that one important factor – cost. New technologies and innovations often have prohibitive price tags, which can limit their acceptance. But in this collaborative effort, the total cost of ownership (TCO), is actually a strength. “In the datacenter industry, most of our customers are keeping a close eye on cost. Every electron put into the cooling system is just overhead. So, if they can use the electron for the CPU instead of, say a fan or a pump, then they know they’re getting more efficiency out of the system,” illustrates Riedel.
According to him, the vast majority of ITRenew’s customers keep a close watch on everything from the cost of floor space to the cost of power, cooling, personnel and many other factors. “A system like this can offer a significant and measurable reduction in cost, by as much as 40-50 percent. And that’s why interest in such a system is definitely starting to pick up,” says Riedel. “To many, sustainability means, ‘Oh, you have to pay a little bit more and you get solar power. But it doesn’t work at night or in bad weather” and so on. But our technology costs less, it performs better, and is better for the environment. It’s a real win.”