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Start-up cools data centers, cuts energy use

Degree Controls has crafted a way to put cold air where it can do the most good.

Some companies want to control the data that flows on the Internet. Start-up company Degree Controls actually wants to control the air around it.

The Milford, N.H.-based company has devised a novel system that it says can reduce the utility bills associated with air conditioning large data centers by up to 30 percent.

Degree's Adaptivcool system consists of a series of sensors, hubs and other cooling components linked together. This cooling system pinpoints hot spots inside a computer room and directs cool air from the room's air conditioner to that spot. The system also directs airflow to prevent cool air from mixing with warm air. By efficiently parceling the cool air churned out by the room's air conditioner, the overall amount of electricity used is less because the entire room doesn't have to be cooled to meat locker temperatures.

"We bring the air where it is needed," said Degree Controls representative Wally Phelps. "Right now, most of the cool air goes back into the air conditioner."

The core of the system are "intelligent fan tiles." These perforated tiles are embedded in the raised floors of computer rooms. Cold air is discharged through the tiles. Data comes in from the sensors, is fed to a computer, and the tiles then direct the air.

Heat has been one of the rising problems in the computing world for the past five years. Some companies now have several thousand computers in their server farms, which tend to be fairly densely packed in racks and blade systems. External ambient heat can cause a server to break down or melt.

Air conditioning systems have been used to cool these computers, but that's become a problem too with rising energy costs. Google, for instance, has complained that its utility bill could outstrip its hardware bill in a few years.

The problem, naturally, has spawned a legion of start-ups and projects at larger companies. Most, though, have tried to solve the problem by changing the components inside computers. Intel, Sun Microsystems and others have come up with cooler microprocessors while others, such as Cooligy have developed heatsinks that draw away heat from inside computers better than earlier technologies.

Degree Controls is approaching the problem by first considering the room. The company charges about $10 to $15 per square foot.