Core4 sells more efficient -- and costly -- CRACs

Data center cooling startup claims its CRAC units can save users hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and earn a utility rebate to boot.

New technology companies are nothing new. But a startup that sells computer room air conditioners (CRACs) -- those big data center cooling units that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- now, that's pretty rare.

For more on data center CRACs:
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But that's Core4 Systems' business. Launched in 2008, the Napa, Calif.-based just this month made its CRACs, air-handling units (AHUs) and chiller systems generally available. The startup claims its units are more efficient and effective than standard units from other data center cooling companies, but they come at a cost. Core4 units are multiple times more expensive than similar-sized units from its competitor, Liebert Corp.

You don't expect [a three-and-a-half-year] ROI on big mechanical equipment.
Dane Jasper,
CEOSonic.net

Core4 credits its new design. A much larger cooling coil leads to more gradual pressure drops, which Core4 says reduces the amount of energy needed to cool data centers. The fans are designed to be connected to the unit but under a raised floor, so air flows out more horizontally. And the cooling coil doesn't start to remove moisture until the room increases to more than 50% relative humidity. Competitors' CRAC units typically start removing moisture at about 30% humidity.

Rick Cockerel, the company's chief technology officer, spent much of his career as an engineer for the industrial refrigeration industry. He said he uses some of these cooling methodologies in designing Core4's units.

"Our equipment is built specifically to be variable," he said. "It's bigger, it takes up more room, but we've found that data centers have more room and less energy."

Size --and price -- could be deterrents
Still, size could be a drawback: Core4 units are typically about 2 feet taller than the average Liebert unit. Because these dimensions might prevent a whole unit from fitting through a data center door, Core4 built its units in two pieces, to be assembled on the data center floor.

Price might also be a deterrent. Sonic.net, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Internet provider that was the first to test the units, was looking to update the cooling infrastructure of its 5,000-square-foot data center about a year ago, and estimated it would cost about $250,000 if it went with Liebert. Going with Core4 Systems cost more than twice that -- $600,000.

"It was substantially more expensive," said Dane Jasper, Sonic.net's CEO. "But it was substantially more efficient. The ROI was three and a half years. You don't expect that fast an ROI on big mechanical equipment."

Jasper acknowledged that Core4's relatively young age is a concern -- customers want to ensure that their providers will be around to maintain their systems. But "the components of the system are pretty standard plumbing and cooling handling systems, he said.

"Anyone who can maintain cooling towers can maintain these for us," he said.

In addition to annual energy savings of about $130,000 a year, Jasper said that Sonic.net was able to secure a rebate from its utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric, for about $150,000 by getting rid of its older, less efficient CRAC units.

Jasper laid out the power savings in a graph showing that power costs for 2008 were reduced to 2006 levels despite the increase in the amount of data center equipment.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

And check out our data center blogs: Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead and Data Center Facilities Pro.

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