Analysis

How data centre trends impact the thermal interface materials

18th June 2021
Lanna Deamer

The past year has seen many of us working from home and spending a lot more time using streaming services and staying indoors. This has caused a greater demand on data centers worldwide leading to increased sales of equipment.

Additionally, demand will also be driven by 5G data, Internet of Things (IoT) applications, the evolution of edge computing, and local data centres which will all impact this market significantly in the coming years.

A key area for data centers is thermal management; most data centres rely on air-conditioned rooms and large heat sinks for the individual components. However, in the future, this may not be feasible for all cases, especially in smaller edge computing sites. Power consumption is always a big concern for data centers and hence we expect to see more passively cooled centers, leading to a more careful selection of thermal materials.

Direct liquid cooling or even immersion cooling is seeing some greater interest in recent years but regardless of the overall thermal strategy adopted, the considerations around Thermal Interface Materials (TIMs) are crucial.

TIMs are required to transfer heat from the operating component to its heatsink. In a data center, TIMs can be found on processors and chipsets on sever boards, various switch and supervisor components and in the power supplies, to name a few locations. Many have used and continue to use typical thermal greases for their TIM in data centres, whilst these present good thermal conductivity and easy application, they are susceptible to pump-out and becoming brittle over time.

This limits thermal performance in the long run and requires maintenance on the system. Alternative forms of TIMs such as pads and phase change materials are gaining traction, enabling even easier application and longer lifetimes.

Demand for TIM in data centres is increasing across various components. Source: IDTechEx report, "Thermal Interface Materials 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets and Opportunities"

Another key trend for data centers is the increasing power density. 1kW per rack may have been considered a high power density in the past, but in 2018, the average was closer to 7kW. However, for many large data centers, 15kW per rack may be more typical, with some reaching 20kW or more. A critical challenge with this increase is managing the heat generated. This is another key driver for higher performance and longer lifetime TIMs, a trend that will only continue to grow in importance.

The new report from IDTechEx, "Thermal Interface Materials 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets and Opportunities" considers the forms and compositions of TIMs, benchmarks commercial products, and details new advanced materials.

It also analyses current TIM applications in emerging markets as well as the key drivers and requirements in these areas such as electric vehicle batteries, data centres, LEDs, 4G & 5G infrastructure, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. In addition, 10-year granular market forecasts are given for each of these segments in terms of application area and tonnage.

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