As sprawling server farms and increasing numbers of data rooms consume more and more energy for critical cooling, a commercialization grant from Oregon BEST, in partnership with the Portland Development Commission (PDC), is helping the suburban Portland city of Gresham, OR, implement and test a locally developed cooling system that could cut energy costs associated with cooling data rooms by as much as 70 percent.
Developed by Gresham startup IT Aire, the system eliminates energy-hungry refrigeration compressors commonly found in Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units. Instead, the system uses indirect evaporative cooling, efficient fans, sensors and very few moving parts, all of which results in 70 percent energy savings over legacy CRAC units, company officials said.
Data rooms are consuming a growing percentage of the power on the U.S. electrical grid, and the increasing use of digital tablets, smartphones and digital streaming are driving this growth, according to IT Aire owner David Neketin.
The $40,000 Oregon BEST grant leveraged an additional $67,000 from the PDC and $8,250 from the Energy Trust of Oregon. The PDC funding is part of a $1 million Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge grant received from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The combined support will fund testing and data analysis by Oregon State University's Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) at the City of Gresham's data room. It will also fund, in partnership with the City of Gresham, installation of an IT Aire system in the data room that will be compared to the City's current cooling system.
"This funding comes at an ideal time because we have potential customers like Intel, Xerox and others who are very interested in our technology but want to see third-party test results from a real installation," Neketin said. "We're confident our system can save the City of Gresham 75 percent of its data room cooling costs, and this grant will enable us to prove that..."
A small startup, IT Aire was struggling to fund the third-party testing required by potential customers, Neketin said. Part of the grant funding will support OSU researchers instrumenting the Gresham data room with wireless sensors to monitor energy use, inside and outside temperature, humidity and airflow. The researchers will test the new system against the current CRAC system to determine actual efficiency and cost savings.
"We met with IT Aire when the company was in its infancy, and I knew then they were working with a game-changing idea," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis.
The IT Aire system is also designed to achieve redundancy without adding the costs often associated with backup cooling systems. Each functional section utilizes redundant components operating at peak efficiency to perform the work, but has enough reserve capacity to deliver full capacity in the event of a single component failure, Neketin said.
The grant is part of $1.9 million in commercialization grants Oregon BEST has awarded in the past 18 months to speed commercialization of the state¹s most promising clean technologies developed by university researchers and private businesses.