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HP Embraces Water to Shake Up High-Performance Computing

Hewlett-Packard Co. is introducing a new cooling technology for its powerful computers that run financial models and create complex designs: water.

An exotic -- and seemingly risky -- method usually used in high-end gaming computers, Hewlett-Packard’s new Apollo family of server computers will feature water cooling to reduce the amount of energy needed to power fans that stop them from overheating, said Antonio Neri, chief of the company’s servers business.

“There is nothing like this on the market,” Neri said in an interview. “It sucks the heat from compute servers in a unique way.”

The innovation opens the door for Hewlett-Packard to chase orders in a $4 billion-segment of the market where it hasn’t had products before, said Neri. Like other mainstream computer makers, the company is searching for ways to differentiate its offerings in the face of cheaper competition from Asian manufacturers and as customers such as Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. turn to making their own equipment.

Unlike gamers’ machines that pump water near heat-generating processors and graphics chips, Hewlett-Packard’s new design keeps the water away from expensive components where a leak could damage them. Its patented exchanger pulls the heat out of the machine from a safer distance and makes the resulting warm water available for reuse elsewhere in buildings, said Neri.

Hewlett-Packard, which unveiled the new product yesterday, is offering a solution to the challenge that all operators of data centers face where costs of electricity and cooling far outweigh the price of the machinery itself. Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman has been seeking to rekindle revenue growth at the Palo Alto, California-based computer maker.

“One glass of water has more energy absorption than a room full of air,” Neri said. “What our engineers did was solve that power efficiency equation.”

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