Council Post: How Data Centers Are Evolving To Meet AI Demand

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Expertise from Forbes Councils members, operated under license. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Giordano Albertazzi is CEO of Vertiv (NYSE: VRT), a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions.

With the arrival of game-changing tech tools like ChatGPT, we’re quickly learning how much our dependance on artificial intelligence (AI), including generative AI (GenAI), is poised to grow. AI is already interwoven into many aspects of our lives and, accordingly, the latest research tells us that AI compute intensity is doubling every six to 10 months. While much focus has justifiably been placed on how AI will transform companies, careers and communications, none of it is possible without an infrastructure that’s made to meet the increasing demand.

Simply put, data centers and edge networks enable the magic that emerges from AI applications. They do so by using high-performance computing (HPC) clusters, which are made up of multiple servers connected through high-speed networks that allow for parallel processing and fast training times. These hard-working machines require considerable power and, as a result, generate a lot of heat. Because of this data- and compute-intensive AI workload, the need for high-density infrastructure, led by high-density cooling and power, is emerging at a record rate.

HPC has changed our world virtually overnight, and the world’s critical digital infrastructure is tasked with keeping pace. Vertiv is among the companies focused on answering this challenge and leading by example, particularly where technology and sustainability intersect. This includes expanding the use of alternative energy, smart grids, hybrid grids and innovative data center designs to deliver reliable solutions for customers, while lessening the negative impacts on our planet in the process.

At the same time, power demands of typical data center computer racks are expected to increase from 5 kW to 7 kW today (equivalent to the size of a small residential backup generator) to 50 kW or more in the not-too-distant future, according to Omdia’s 2022 Data Center Thermal Management Market Analysis report. This means we must develop and deploy solutions capable of delivering ever-increasing power over time while simultaneously employing more efficient methods to make it happen.

As supercomputers continue to shrink and become more power-dense, our industry is constantly thinking about how we keep them cool, while concurrently tapping alternative power sources to support the increased energy demand. Several approaches are emerging.

* Air cooling: One example is the use of rear-door heat exchangers in conjunction with air cooling. This solution has the ability to displace heat outside the servers.

* Immersion cooling: This involves submerging servers and other components in a thermally conductive dielectric liquid or fluid.

* Direct-to-chip liquid cooling: This process delivers cooling liquid through cold plates that lay atop the heat sources within the computers, drawing the heat away when the liquid circulates.

Moving forward, data centers will need to tightly orchestrate both liquid and air cooling (a hybrid strategy) to optimize the overall environment within the facility.

This AI-induced chain of events is keeping teams of problem-solving engineers busy. Some existing data centers may choose to retrofit their premises while future facilities will likely explore different designs to solve the challenges of power and heat density.

AI is a fascinating technology that’s poised to change our world, but it’s impossible to predict exactly how it will evolve and what it will do. However, its potential is only as great as the world’s data centers’ capacity to support the computational intelligence it will require. Our industry must continue to evolve to provide the dynamic and innovative cooling and power solutions needed to support evolving data center challenges and maximize AI’s true potential.

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