Hewlett-Packard Co. announced earlier this month that it will offer a smarter, more sophisticated approach to server cooling next year. But while HP promises up to 40% savings in cooling costs for customers, installing the systems may be beyond the reach of most channel partners.
HP's approach, to smarten up existing cooling systems, differs from that of American Power Conversion Corp. (APC), in West Kingston , R.I. That company's InRow products are designed to stand next to the racks themselves to offer an easier and more direct airflow. This modular system makes cooling servers easy enough for resellers to do, said Kevin Dunlap, director of business strategy for cooling solutions at APC.
"With this standardized InRow architecture, we're basically delivering the same product over and over. It's a stock product," he said. "It's very predictable, and you know what's going to happen in those kinds of environments. ... For resellers, there's a huge advantage in having something that's very repeatable."
APC has traditionally worked closely with VARs and intends to continue doing so, said Channel Program Manager Lori Barrington. She added that the InRow system, which APC trains VARs in setting up, lets VARs provide cooling systems they couldn't include before.
HP said it intends to involve the channel in delivering its system, and a spokesperson for the company said resellers can expect sensor rack kits and licenses for the software that HP will provide to analyze and manage the room's cooling system.
But IT resellers and SIs may not have the expertise to set up a truly efficient cooling system, said Ken Brill, founder and executive director at the Uptime Institute, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based analyst firm specializing in uptime management of data centers. Brill said designing a good cooling system is a complex process. The Institute has a list of 28 distinct points that should be implemented, but Brill said most sites they visit have only implemented five or six of them.
In the past, that just meant inefficient cooling and high costs, but as servers get denser and hotter, heat-related equipment failures are going to be an increasingly common problem, Brill said. He said that air-based cooling systems, such as those from APC and HP, are too inefficient to keep up with server technology and too complex for VARs to successfully implement.
"The Institute says the user has to become much more engineering competent [for air-based systems]. The vendors, like HP and APC and others, are trying to come up with products that don't require the user to become more engineering competent," he said. "Air cooling is just too difficult. Buying products from very good manufactures like HP or APC does not eliminate the skill [required] of the user."
Another problem is that air-based systems need to take into account the entire server room, not just the specific rack or set of racks that an SI may be brought in for, Brill said.
He said the next breakthrough will not be an improvement to air cooling, but rather a shift to water cooling. Companies are afraid of water cooling because of the threat of leaks, but the Institute's research indicates this is "probably misinformed judgment not supported by facts," Brill said.