BT has become the latest telecoms operator to embrace the idea of liquid cooling as a way to reduce energy consumption, which in turn helps with climate-related targets and saves some cash.

Mary Lennighan

September 14, 2023

3 Min Read
BT plans liquid cooling trials with Iceotope and others

BT has become the latest telecoms operator to embrace the idea of liquid cooling as a way to reduce energy consumption, which in turn helps with climate-related targets and saves some cash.

The UK incumbent has outlined a range of liquid cooling experiments it is currently undertaking with various vendors, chief among which seems to be a trial with specialist vendor Iceotope for cooling network switches.

Specifically, the telco said it is evaluating a precision liquid cooling solution from Iceotope with Juniper Networks’ QFX series switches. Or rather, it will do that. The trial hasn’t started, but BT has set up a replica test at its Sustainability Festival, using an HP x86 server, with a view to demonstrating how it could significantly reduce the power used to cool a network switch deployed in a data centre.

Doubtless we’ll hear more about that when it gets underway. For now BT simply states that in general liquid cooling techniques can cut power consumption by 40%-50% when compared with air cooling alternatives.

That’s clearly not a small number. Hence it’s no surprise that BT is examining a range of possibilities in the liquid cooling sphere. It has also planned trials – the wording of its statement suggests none of them are actually underway yet – with the same two vendors and others. BT also aims to look into precision liquid cooled networking servers and data centres equipment with Iceotope and Juniper; it has lined up a trial of full immersion of networking servers in an immersion tank, with Immersion4; it will team up with Nexalus on liquid-cooled cold plates of networking equipment in a cooling enclosure; and will partner with Airsys on the use of sprayed-on partial immersion of data centre equipment.

The trial of precision liquid cooled network switches with Iceotope and Juniper is front and centre at present though because, BT claims, it’s an industry first.

“As the…largest provider of fixed-line broadband and mobile services in the UK, it isn’t a surprise that over 90% of our overall energy consumption – and nearly 95% of our electricity – comes from our networks,” said Maria Cuevas, Networks Research Director at BT Group, in a statement.

“In a world of advancing technology and growing data demands, it’s critical that we continue to innovate for energy efficiency solutions. Liquid cooling for network and IT infrastructure is one part of a much bigger jigsaw but is an area we’re very excited to explore with our technology partners,” she said.

Cooling got a mention in BT’s latest annual report, in which it listed a handful of ways it has sought to make energy savings: “we’ve focused on reducing energy consumption, while improving the performance of the cooling systems that protect our network equipment from overheating. We’re also moving to fewer, more efficient buildings. And longer term, FTTP migration will reduce the number of exchanges and other network sites we need and cut our network’s overall energy consumption,” it said.

Like its peers, BT has a number of reasons for tackling energy consumption. The one it prefers to talk about is its quest to become a net zero business by the end of March 2031; using less energy naturally means fewer emissions.

But there’s also a cost element too. Skyrocketing energy prices have been well-documented over the past 12 months or so, and it goes without saying that high-energy usage businesses like telecoms operators are doing all they can to stop their bills going through the roof.

Reducing network power usage is an important part of that, and addressing the cooling issue can only help.

 

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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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