School of MIME's Energy Efficiency Center Helps Local Business

There is some good news for those who give worry to the impressively high energy usage associated with slick tech and the digital cloud. A new locally developed technology to cool data centers consumes about 70 percent less energy than the system it replaces, according to testing from Oregon State's Energy Efficiency Center. With this finding, Gresham, Ore.-based startup IT Aire is ready to market its data center cooling system to businesses that want to save money on the energy costs related to technology cooling.

IT Aire owner David Neketin, one of four principals in the company, said that he had potential clients such as Intel and Xerox, who were interested in the cooling system, but needed to see verified third-party reports on the energy savings from a working installation. As a startup, the company struggled to get together the funds to pay for third-party testing – and get the testing to occur in a real, functioning installation.Oregon State School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering

Thus, this success story begins in the City of Gresham on the third floor of City Hall, where a data room runs 24 hours a day, 365 day a year in Oregon's third largest city. The cooling system for the ever-expanding data room needed an upgrade.

A commercialization grant from Oregon BEST, in partnership with the Portland Development Commission (PDC), helped the city implement and test the innovative cooling system from IT Aire. Additional funding came from the Energy Trust of Oregon. Altogether about $115,000 supported the installation of the system in Gresham City Hall.

Oregon BEST commercialization grants are geared to speed commercialization of the state’s most promising clean technologies developed by university researchers and private businesses.
It was a nice break for IT Aire in their hometown. The City Hall cooling system needed an upgrade, though by certain yardsticks, Gresham's old system was not too bad.

According to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab, a typical data center achieves an annualized average power usage effectiveness (PEU) of approximately 1.80. The PUE is the ratio of total power to run the data center facility (IT equipment, lighting, HVAC, etc.) to the total power drawn by all IT equipment.

Oregon State Industrial Engineering Ph.D. student Babak Lajevardi, who conducted the testing at the Gresham City Hall for the EEC, measured an overall average PUE of 1.25 for the original system. This system relies on refrigeration compressors for cooling, which is common to most legacy Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units.

When Lajevardi tested IT Aire's system, he found a reduction of 0.2 (from 1.25 to 1.05) in average PUE value when cooling. The IT Aire system eliminates the energy-intensive compressors and relies instead on indirect evaporative cooling, fans, and sensors.

According to Lajevardi, the old system consumed 0.25 kW of power to cool air and remove the heat from the server racks for every 1 kW of electricity delivered to the IT equipment. His testing suggests that with IT Aire cooling system only about 5 percent of total power consumption is used to cool the IT equipment racks.Oregon State School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering

"We observed an average energy savings of about 75 percent when the cooling system was switched to the IT Aire evaporative indirect cooling system compared to the existing direct evaporative system," Lajevardi said.

Furthermore, the 1.05 PUE is quite impressive. For a quick comparison, at NREL's huge high-performance computing center in Golden, Colo., their data center is expected to achieve a 1.06 PUE. IT Aire's system, which they intend to market to small- and medium-sized operations, is meeting the PUE ratio of one of the most energy-efficient data centers in the world.

Overall, Neketin reports that the data room industry continues to grow at more than 12 percent per year. “We believe we have developed a superior system, but without a respected third party validation of the energy savings we could not compete with mass produced legacy units. The findings of Oregon State enhance our power to compete with large corporations producing traditional packaged units,” Neketin said.

Lajevardi, under the supervision of industrial engineering assistant professor Dr. Karl Haapala and Energy Efficiency Center director Joe Junker, will continue to collect data on the systems for another year. EEC will then publish a report based on the larger data set.

Research results based on the project already have appeared in the proceedings of the IIE Industrial and Systems Engineering Research Conference (ISERC) and the SME North American Manufacturing Research Conference. It is also to appear in the SME Journal of Manufacturing Systems.

EEC, which houses the OSU Industrial Assessment Center, runs with a mission imperative from the U.S. Department of Energy to promote energy efficiency among small- and medium-sized manufacturing facilities.

"This is a great example of the energy savings – and money savings – that businesses and facilities can discover once we start looking" said Junker. "The EEC involvement in the City of Gresham data center project provides experience and a skill set for conducting assessments at other facilities that want to review their data room energy usage."

In Gresham, Oregon State installed a remote wireless network and a series of portable data loggers, which could be deployed anywhere on site in the data center, taking readings with an interval of one minute The testing network backed up data every 24 hours and a number of alerts and sensors kept researchers assured that their data loggers were operational.

As well, the team is investigating a new metric, different from the PUE, which will allow data centers to better assess the rate of change in energy usage that equipment upgrades or reconfigurations can deliver.

"This is a terrific project for everyone involved," said Haapala. "Our graduate student gets work experience with an industry partner as well as a government agency. IT Aire verifies their technical claims with a research report they can to show potential clients, and the OSU Energy Efficiency Center and my research team have another skill set to bring on other projects and other facilities with concerns about their data center energy use."

Photo credit: U.S. EPA