PHOENIX, Ariz. – There are molecules all around your data center. And they’re not working hard enough to keep your servers cool.
Scott Davis says he wants to change that. Davis is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Forced Physics DCT, a data center startup that has spent more than a decade pursuing the use of molecular physics to create a low-energy cooling solution for data centers. The company’s technology is finally ready for showtime, and was on display last week at the Data Center World 2019 Conference.
Forced Physics DCT is an unusual startup. It’s taken a slow path to market, eschewed venture capital funding, and built a supply chain prior to launching. The company’s booth on the expo floor of the Phoenix Convention Center featured demonstrations at the chassis, rack and container level, as well as a working prototype in a data hall at H5 Data Centers in nearby Chandler.
Some data center professionals believe Forced Physics is a company to watch. It can cool IT equipment with rack densities up to 36 kW per rack, and works with off-the-shelf form factors for racks and servers (although a custom chassis design is needed). The Forced Physics solution requires no water, refrigerant or compressors, creating the potential for a simple design that eliminates expensive mechanical infrastructure.
That creates the potential for exceptional energy efficiency. Forced Physics says its cooling conductor can operate with outside air of up to 130 degrees, and can deliver an mPUE (a version of the Power Usage Effectiveness efficiency metric) as low as 1.02.
It’s a compelling story. Davis understands that success for Forced Physics is tied to its ability to deliver on its tech and its potential.
“The challenge this industry poses to us is allowing our company to scale,” said Davis. “We now have a supply chain that is aware of what we have, and are able to deliver it at a scale for the Googles and Amazons of the world. You have to be able to deliver.”
Molecular Beams Create a Cooling Conductor
“How much do you know about physics?” That’s the first question Scott Davis asks as he explains the technology behind his cooling solution. It’s fair to say that Forced Physics takes a more granular approach to the science of cooling than many other market solutions. The short version is that Davis envisioned a way to use the movement of molecules to remove heat from a surface in an efficient and novel way.
The speed of the movement of molecules creates heat energy. Forced Physics focuses this movement to create a molecular beam, which creates a drop in temperature as beams of air are manipulated.
The science comes together in the JouleForce conductor, a metal component with exterior vents to introduce air, and more than 1,500 fins on each side to channel it. The effect creates the molecular beam that transforms the conductor’s exterior surface into a type of cold plate, cooled by air rather than fluid. Servers can be mounted directly on both sides of the conductor, which can cool up to 1,200 watts of electronics.
“We line up the air molecules with the geometry between the air fins,” said Davis. “It removes heat very efficiently and effectively. We move as little air as we can, and we have very dense cooling.”
At Data Center World, the Forced Physics team showed off the conductor, a server assembly, and the servers deployed in a standard Rittal Open Compute Project (OCP) rack. It also demonstrated how those racks would populate a modular data center. The only moving parts were four large fans that introduce outside air, which is filtered prior to entering the servers. The demo container housed 172 kW of capacity, but the company has modular form factors that can support up to 4.5 MWs of capacity in a 50×50-foot design.
A full demo is now installed at the H5 Data Centers Phoenix facility, where a data center suite is equipped with 27 conductors installed in a 32 kW standard OCP rack. H5 Data Centers CEO Josh Simms says Forced Physics is part of the data center industry’s evolution to supporting denser and more complex IT workloads.
“The demand for high-performance computing has grown rapidly with emerging applications to support AI, medical research, aerospace engineering, and DNA sequencing,” said Simms. “To support these new technologies, mission-critical data center providers must adapt to the changing landscape. Forced Physics DCT offers a solution that can meet the needs of these innovative sectors.”
The Forced Physics Story
The market launch of the JouleForce unit is the culmination of a long journey for Davis, who worked for Digital Equipment and Giga Information Group in the 1990s prior to shifting his focus to the physics of cooling. He founded Forced Physics LLC in 2005, after the first U.S patents were issued. Funding from the Army Research Laboratories enabled Davis to continue development, along with access to fabrication equipment. The prototype design was further incubated at the MEMS Exchange, a DARPA program.
The Forced Physics team believes that as data center operators seek to manage more high-density workloads, the simplicity of implementation will give its technology an advantage over liquid cooling solutions, which were highly visible at the recent hyperscale-centric Open Compute Summit.
“We’re able to support high power densities better than the liquid cooling,” said David Binger, Chief Technology Officer of Forced Physics.
There may be a learning curve for some. “This is radically different,” Davis said. “It has to be demonstrated, so the industry knows that it works and it is safe. I think the main thing is education. It’s not a hard story, you just have to understand it.”
“This is radically different. It has to be demonstrated, so the industry knows that it works and it is safe.”
Scott Davis, founder and CEO of Forced Physics DCT
That’s why Forced Physics DCT has quietly been making the rounds at conferences and getting to know the data center industry. It is working with several industry veterans, including Mike Jump of M Jump Group, who is a senior advisor.
“People know who we are,” said Davis. “Everyone is very interested. We’re a component manufacturer. The only thing we have an interest in making is this unit (the cooling conductor). We’ve been contacted by OEMs. There will likely be a healthy channel, and I’d rather cooperate than compete so that everyone adopts it quicker.”
As with all cooling solutions, the economics of the technology will matter, and with advanced cooling solutions the best economics are delivered in environments that can simplify the equipment. That’s why, although the conductor can work in retrofits, the best economics are likely to be seen in new projects, with the modular data center as a streamlined deployment vehicle.
Thinking Big About the Future
Forced Physics LLC holds the designs and intellectual property for Davis’ inventions. Forced Physics DCT is the technology company created to deliver commercial solutions to the data center industry. It’s part of a long-term plan. If the data center unit succeeds, the technology could have applications in other industries as well.
“I think this story has several chapters,” said Davis. “When you have a fundamental technology, what you do with it is important. There are other things that need to be done.”
Davis says Forced Physics is “the realization of a lifelong dream to invent a technology that could benefit mankind.” That explains why he hasn’t simply offered the technology to one of the large cloud computing platforms, who seem like logical prospects for a cooling technology that can deliver extreme efficiency at scale. But being acquired by a hyperscale player doesn’t align with Davis’ vision for his technology.
“That’s not a good model for this industry,” said Davis. “Everyone needs to adopt this, and there should be room and opportunity for everyone. The power and water footprint of data centers can be cut or eliminated. That’s why we just didn’t go straight to (hyperscalers). That’s not what we think is right for this market or this planet.”