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Cooling servers, case by case

Server cooling startup, Degree Controls Inc., is rolling out a new system of fans and sensors customized to help direct cool air to where it's needed most and cut down on cooling waste.

A startup company specializing in thermal and airflow technologies is releasing a cooling system it claims can...

trim data center energy bills by up to 30%.

Unveiled last week by Milford, N.H.-based Degree Controls Inc. (DegreeC), the system, dubbed Adaptivcool, aims to help kill hot spots in server rooms by using temperature sensors and variable-speed fans that operate through perforated tiles embedded in the data center's raised flooring.

A hub linked to the sensors manipulates the direction and intensity of cool air, helping also to feed hot exhaust back into the conditioner, while what is happening is reported through diagnostic software.

The hardware -- temperature sensors, a thermal hub, "intelligent" supply and return fans, and cabling -- is compatible with any raised-floor data center, and is packaged alongside DegreeC services such as installation and ongoing support and upgrades.

Modern, high-density data centers can consume massive amounts of energy, a cooling challenge often managed by simply adding more air at lower temperatures. Cranking the A/C, however, has become one of the biggest sinkholes for IT dollars, and a method increasingly repugnant to administrators looking to douse the rising flames of energy cost.

"This 'brute-force' method does not address the fundamental problem of cooling a data center," said Thomas Condon, senior consultant for Chicago-based System Development Integration (SDI). "[Degree C] can provide the right amount of cooling for each component. This will eliminate hot spots and equipment damage while reducing overall energy usage. This approach could also be the single factor that prevents a data center from needing to add more cooling capacity, which can be a costly and disruptive project."

According to Rajesh Mair, the company's chief technology officer, one of the most important aspects of the Adaptivcool system is the evaluation process. Determining the right components for the job and devising an arrangement to create optimal airflow is a major part of the installation. It's not a plug and play option.

Experts familiar with combating heat issues in data centers agreed, planning is an essential step when turning down the thermostat and throwing in a bunch of nifty hardware at a problem won't work.

"A lot of people latch on to all these possible solutions but they don't understand what's happening to the total picture," said data center design expert, Robert E. McFarlane, president of the Interport Division of New York-based Shen, Milsom & Wilke Inc. "It's a very dynamic environment, it's very complex, and you really need to know an awful lot for it to work right…."I'm so pleased to see [DegreeC] say: 'we've got to do a thorough analysis on this first.' It's a professional, responsible approach."

For more information:

 Learning guide: How to design a server room

IT energy crisis reaching critical mass  

DegreeC has grown since its foundation in 1996, now employing about 100 employees since its acquisition of Marlborough, Mass-based Integrated Quality Services (IQS), a provider of thermal management technologies in December of last year.

Despite praise, the technology has yet to prove itself. Time should tell whether energy savings will overshadow the cost of installation and upkeep of potentially expensive tools like fans and probes.

Such clever responses to heat only fairly recently have become a priority. As energy costs balloon, start-ups and larger companies alike are also researching to minimize heat by looking inside the boxes at processors and heat sinks.

DegreeC stresses its pricing is case by case. That said, the estimated price range can run as low as $5 per square foot to as high as $15 per square foot with an ROI in one year

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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