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Shell Powers Performance and Sustainability with Penguin Solutions-delivered Immersion-Cooled HPC

Cutting-Edge Solutions Tackle the Surging Power Demands of High-Performance Computing While Supporting Lower Emissions

The digital transformation sweeping industries worldwide is driving exponential growth in data and creating a huge demand for computing power to crunch massive datasets. At the same time, pressure is mounting to curb the accompanying surge in energy consumption and reduce the environmental impact of power-hungry data centers.

Data centers account for as much as 1.5% of all energy consumption globally. About a third of the power is used for cooling electronic components. Switching to lower-carbon and renewable electricity reduces the carbon footprint. But data centers must also reduce the amount of power required for effective server cooling to make a significant environmental impact – particularly as data centers continue to grow and expand.

A unique collaboration among Penguin Solutions, Shell, and AMD[1]  is working to power high-performing data centers while reducing emissions. This shared ambition to support a sustainable future for data centers is already showing real results.

Surging Demand vs. Conventional Computing

High performance computing (HPC) has become indispensable across industries pushing the digital frontier. In oil and gas, HPC steers exploration by processing complex seismic datasets. It enables computational fluid dynamics to optimize designs. The addition of machine learning and AI drive predictive analytics and real-time decision support.

HPC also increasingly supports capabilities essential in the transition to a net-zero emissions future, including innovative electric vehicle charging solutions, utilizing computational fluid dynamics to optimize wind farm design, and systems-level modelling to pioneer decarbonization pathways.

Organizations like Shell, with their complex data-intensive applications, face the pressure of balancing computational muscle with operational efficiency. Surging demand for compute comes at a cost, with growing energy needs often translating into growing electricity bills and environmental concerns.

HPC Data Center Cooling Challenges

As HPC workloads ramp up from accumulating data volume and complexity, electricity consumption follows suit. Traditional air-cooling methods are hitting performance barriers as chip densities and thermal output continue climbing. HPC data centers are also struggling to keep pace with the exponentially increasing heat loads generated by modern processors.

This translates to inefficient energy usage, higher carbon emissions, and the need for sprawling data center footprints to dissipate the heat. Hotspots within these facilities further exacerbate the problem, leading to thermal inefficiencies and performance bottlenecks. Liquid cooling tackles immediate hotspots more efficiently by piping coolant directly over compute chips, but also has limitations.

Shell’s Houston Data Center: A Hub for Innovation

As both a major energy company and a prolific user of HPC capabilities, Shell is strategically positioned to address these intersecting challenges. The company’s state-of-the-art Houston data center provides an inside look at an innovative solution balancing HPC performance with energy efficiency and emissions reductions.

Shell’s Houston data hall packs more than 1,700 state-of-the-art AMD EPYC processors. Recognizing the limitations of both traditional air and direct-to-chip liquid cooling, Shell has embraced immersion cooling technology. This revolutionary approach, akin to submerging servers in a heat-absorbing bath, dramatically improves cooling efficiency. By eliminating the need for air handlers and extensive ductwork, immersion cooling allows for more compact data center footprints, and can lead to significant energy savings and emissions reductions.

By eliminating cooling constraints, immersion paves the way for unprecedented consolidation. Shell fits more than 3X more power into each rack, slashing the real estate required per unit and shrinking infrastructure space. The cooling fluid absorbs and transfers heat more than 1,000X more efficiently than air, enabling higher rack densities and increased processing power within a smaller footprint.[2] [3] 

Significant Reduction in Energy Consumption

Compared to air cooling, Shell reports single-phase immersion cooling has the potential to deliver the following efficiency gains[1]:

  • Up to 48% reduced electricity use
  • Up to 40% greater CPU performance
  • Up to 30% lower CO2 footprint
  • Up to 80% less floor space needed

Immersion cooling is showing great promise across industries, and several studies demonstrate its significant potential. While The Uptime Institute’s Global Data Center Survey notes that the average power usage effectiveness (PUE) for data centers is 1.55, immersion cooling can generate PUEs approaching 1.1.

Powering High Performance Sustainability

With pressure mounting on data-driven organizations to curb emissions without compromising capability, Shell’s Houston facility is showcasing a unique way to approach the future. By converging cutting-edge hardware, immersion cooling technology, and renewable energy, Shell is taking proactive steps to live up to its sustainability promises.

The results speak for themselves—more than 165,000 cores packed into a significantly smaller footprint, optimizing performance relative to cost, and transforming system efficiency.

As industries continue to grow their data footprints and associated energy needs, immersion cooling offers a significant breakthrough in heat mitigation that can support both business and sustainability goals.

[1] Figures based on: Global immersion cooling market in data centres – growth, trends and forecast (2019-2024) report (Mordor Intelligence) and Shell’s internal evaluations. Benefits achieved will vary according to actual site development.

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