CoolIT buys bankrupt Delphi

CoolIT Systems Inc. has acquired struggling Delphi Corp.’s thermal liquid cooling assets with the hope of taking the technology beyond the realm of high-end gaming and into the enterprise computing space. But at least one analyst says the technology will face some adoption challenges among IT shops.

With the acquisition, the Calgary-based liquid cooling firm takes over Delphi’s liquid cooling machinery, equipment and related intellectual property, as well as contracts with Dell Corp. and Apple Inc. Delphi, an auto parts manufacturer based in Troy, Mich., filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

In the gaming space, liquid cooling can be considered a mainstream piece of any high-performance rig, according to CoolIT CEO Geoff Lyon. But the next frontier for the technology appears to be focused on business users.

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“(Liquid cooling) will move toward workstations, server cooling and other expansions on that,” Lyon said. “It’s just now being spec’d in for the next generation of workstations, so that will likely be the next area of adoption. We also have a customer that’s actually doing a blade server array that is 100 per cent liquid cooled, allowing them to increase their density by a factor of two.”

He added that traditional air cooling is no longer a viable option for high-performance PC hardware, citing Intel Corp.’s new Core i7 processors as an example.

“Much like in the past, its total design power is around the 130-watt range,” Lyon said. “So if you were running one of the cores, you would only be producing a fraction of that. It would be a very rare case that you would actually tax all four cores and reach the total design power.”

With the Core i7, a “turbo boost” feature allows the chip to ramp all active cores up to 133 MHz over the design clock rate, assuming it can produce a heat-sinking solution capable of accommodating this power consumption. Lyon added that this feature is not manageable with a marginal heat sink and underscores liquid cooling’s key role in tomorrow’s workstations.

“If we look forward in the road map, liquid cooling allows you to have all of that head room, without the PC sounding like a jet engine,” Lyon added.

But Darin Stahl, lead analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., doesn’t expect the technology to move downstream as fast as CoolIT does — especially not at the workstation level.

“In terms of cooling CPUs individually, I don’t see it as a big market space because it’s going to cause companies to retrofit on a large scale,” he said. Outside of one or two high-end units that might be especially susceptible to heat and lacking a climate-controlled environment, enterprises won’t buy in to this strategy, he added.

Stahl was a bit more optimistic about precision liquid cooling for racks and servers, however, as flooding a room with cool air has never been a wise move, he said. “It sort of defies physics to blow cold air up from the floor. Cold air wants to fall.”

“Enterprises are more inclined to use this kind of precision cooling at the rack level, rather than at the CPU level,” Stahl added.

More likely though, he said, liquid cooling will continue to work its way into other electronic components, such as home theatre systems.

As for the terms of the CoolIT-Delphi deal, Lyon could not disclose specifics, but did confirm that the acquisition was completed in an all-cash deal after a fairly lengthy negotiation process.

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