Cooling off the Load

As computing continues to accommodate our ever-increasing need to collect and store information, a pressing challenge has emerged: How do we prevent our electronic data systems, which we’ve come to completely depend on, from overheating and burning up?

The Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation's Black Hole Lab at RIT, which allows scientists to study astrophysics in detail through a high-powered supercomputer, found itself in such a predicament.

RIT discovered a solution through one of its Clean Energy Incubator tenant companies called OptiCool Technologies. The startup developed a data center cooling system, which goes by the same name, that significantly increases cooling capacity while reducing energy consumption.

“The researchers were at the point where they could not cool the data center effectively with conventional cooling methods, and they were looking for a solution,” said Jeff Burke, OptiCool founder, who retrofitted the lab with his system earlier this year. “We were able to help them with their cooling problem and significantly reduce their energy costs at the same time.”

OptiCool is based on an off-the-shelf refrigerant used in the air conditioning units of standard vehicles. The nontoxic, noncorrosive product circulates through a pump attached to flexible hoses. OptiCool reduces energy used for cooling by up to 95% and increases cooling capacity within an equipment rack by 500%.

Most data centers, composed of computer-processing servers stacked on top of one another, consume vast amounts of energy. A significant amount of power used for data centers is for cooling down the systems. The higher the quality and number of servers used to power a data center, the more concern there is with excess heat generated. Traditionally, air conditioned rooms and fans have been used to cool down data rooms, but the conventional methods drive up energy costs and have limited effectiveness.

RIT has already reaped benefits of installing the new cooling system. The lab has been able to grow its computing capabilities without adding new space. This has allowed the lab’s researchers to secure more grants and hire other researchers. Also, in June 2012, Rochester Gas and Electric presented a rebate check of nearly $32,000 to RIT for saving on energy use with the new cooling system.

OptiCool, which moved out of the incubator into a new space that includes a manufacturing system in Webster, currently has customers coast to coast and is establishing business partnerships in Canada.