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New home-grown tech could cut data center power costs in half

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new homegrown technology that uses water to cool overheated data centers could hose down the competition by lowering power costs at those server farms worldwide.

Albuquerque-based engineering firm Aquila will publicly unveil its new “Aquarius” warm-water cooling system with an open house Thursday at its 25,000-square-foot manufacturing center near the Albuquerque International Balloon Park.

Aquila built the technology with California-based Clustered Systems Co., which specializes in cooling and switching technology for data centers and high-performance computing.

The partners say Aquarius could cut data-center power costs by up to 50 percent compared with today’s forced-air cooling systems, which undermine the economics of massive server farms that have spread at gigabyte-speed across the globe. Facebook, for example, just broke ground this week on such a data center in Los Lunas.

“We’ll sell fully-integrated solutions to customers around the world,” said Aquila President Judy Beckes Talcott. “We’ll take the servers and the whole computing system imbedded with Aquarius technology right to customer sites and install it.”

Aquarius addresses one of the largest operating costs at data-centers — the massive power required to run forced-air cooling systems that keep servers and equipment at stable temperatures. Those systems continuously heat up during operation. Cooling them eats up about 95 percent of all power consumed, said Aquila business development manager Bob Bolz.

Liquid cooling for servers is far more energy efficient, and it’s already being deployed in the industry. But most current technology only cools parts of the system and still relies on forced-air for other needs, such as fans and some individual power supplies, Bolz said. Those systems also occupy a lot of space and require power for pumps.

In contrast, the Aquarius system uses stainless steel cold plates designed by Clustered Systems. Indentations  between the plates let water flow through, while a closed-loop pumping and filtering system continuously circulates and recycles the water. The plates sit flush against servers on storage racks, cooling them down.

Aquila redesigned servers for maximum contact with the plates, eliminating all fans and individual power supplies. Everything runs on direct, or DC current, eliminating power loss from conversion to alternate, or AC current. It’s all packaged into less space than forced-air systems, allowing more servers on each rack. And the system uses warm water to avoid power for cooling it.

“We custom-designed the servers to make it all work together,” Bolz said. “Clustered makes the plates and the pumping system and we do all the rest. It will cost customers a little more upfront than forced-air systems, but it will pay for itself within the first year.”

Aquila will make the systems at its 45-employee plant, ramping up the workforce as demand grows.

“We’ve come up with a new way of doing things,” said Clustered Systems CEO Phil Hughes. “We think there will be a big market for it.”

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