APC's Cool Idea Is a Breath of Fresh Air For Data Centers

A key supplier of power-management solutions is taking a new approach toward attacking a key problem: reducing the cost and complexity of cooling data centers.

APC today is unveiling cooling systems that are a departure from how air conditioning is provided to data centers. The company's new InfraStruXure equipment applies cooling among actual racks rather than in larger, more centralized cooling systems.

The existing approach to data-center air-conditioning systems has several drawbacks, says Kevin Nusky, APC's infrastructure product line manager. First, it's harder to provide predictable cooling because air is pushed though the room; as a result, customers have to move blowers extra hard to compensate.

APC's new architecture moves the cooling ducts into rows with the computing, storage and network equipment, providing more efficient distribution of air, which will reduce power costs by anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent--and, in some cases, more, according to Nusky.

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"Now we are running our motors at the row level so they don't have to work as hard," Nusky says. "We also increase our efficiencies because we are gathering the hot air at the point at which it is produced because it prevents mixing. If you can prevent the mixing of the air, you can have your air conditioning work less and you get the increased efficiency."

APC, which is best known for its uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes) for everyone ranging from consumers to large enterprises, also offers high-end power management solutions for large data centers. The West Kingston, R.I.-based company got into the data-center cooling business back in 2000 when it acquired AirFlow for $22.5 million.

With the InfraStruXure InRow RC, modular air-conditioning units are bolted onto the side of each rack. Each unit, which is half the width of a standard rack and can be managed through APC's InfraStruXure Manager software, can provide either 60 KW of cooling per rack, or 30 KW with full redundancy. That's triple the output of its previous line of systems.

The solution also consists of APC's Cooling Distribution Unit, a water-distribution system that feeds water to each InRow RC unit. And the Rack Air Containment System, or RACS, is a modular system that removes exhaust so that warm exhaust doesn't work its way into the cooling environment.

For APC channel partners, the company is offering training tools and professional installation services. Each of the racks are IP-enabled and can be linked to existing SNMP-based management systems. Also, Nusky says, partners have the opportunity to offer power and cooling as a precursor to any data-center redesign.

"Now they are talking about the physical layer before they even talk about selling the server," he says.

APC's system, which includes the UPS power component, racks, rack-power distribution, cooling and overlying systems management, will typically range from $25,000 to $35,000, though Nusky says pricing is quite variable depending on the configuration.