Closer Look: Silver Linings Modular ‘Rafts’

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We’ve been closely tracking the emergence of new offerings for data center containers and factory-built modular designs. Cooling equipment vendor IEA Inc. has taken a slightly different approach to modular design with Silver Linings Rafts, which can be implemented in a number of different modular strategies. The product leverages IEA’s experience with cooling design with a flexible approach to IT expansion.

To learn more about Silver Linings, we recently conducted an email question-and-answer session with Jack Harms, the Vice President of Marketing for Silver Linings, LLC.

DCK: The product is known as the Silver Linings Raft. Why a “raft”?

Harms: During initial development, we conceived of the product as a platform onto which was loaded various types of IT equipment, and the platform was in turn slid into a container … sort of the way Huck Finn floated product down the Mississippi on a “raft.”  The term became ubiquitous and stuck.

DCK: Many of our readers are familiar with data center containers and some of the newer pre-fab modular designs. How does Silver Linings’ product differ from these?

Harms: What separates Silver Linings Rafts from other modular products is the exceptional energy efficiency of the on-board cooling system. Our testing has consistently indicated PUEs of 1.4 and better across a wide range of kW usage.

While there are five standard Raft designs, the product is really intended to be customized to meet specific customer needs, be that for placement within an ISO container, inside an existing data center or computer room, outside in the elements, on a trailer, even in kit form for on-site erection.

Virtually any dimension is achievable, and Rafts can be sheathed in whatever material best fits the nature of the installation.  (There are drawings on our website showing various construction options.)

DCK: What are some of the ways your customers are using the Silver Linings module?

Harms: Rafts are currently being considered: 1) for placement inside ISO containers, that are, in turn, being placed inside brick and mortar data center facilities, 2) as stand alone modules inside data centers but outside ISO containers, 3) for use as remote computer centers with separate but connected units holding servers, UPS, and power generation equipment.

DCK: You’ve designed a custom cooling system for Silver Linings. Tell us about the principles that guided your approach, and what you see as the advantages of this design

Harms: Rafts are produced by IEA, Inc., a leading supplier of industrial grade radiators to major large engine companies such as Caterpillar and Cummins. Our competitive advantage is a proven expertise in being able to cool large, hot mechanical objects.

We perceived the data center market’s need was for a more energy efficient way to cool data centers.  We were also aware that ISO containers were being used as auxiliary IT equipment shelters. Naturally, our engineering group attacked the challenge by looking for a better way to cool ISO containers.

The progression of their developments led first to the concept of stand-alone modules equipped with individual cooling systems. Then came the need to take these highly compact systems and make them highly effective. That led to the development of the Rafts’ proprietary heat exchanger cores and adjustable fan panels. Those cooling components were then applied to a variety of Raft sizes and shapes as well as cooling mediums. Throughout the development process, the measuring standard was always the requirement to keep energy consumption below industry standards.

In the cooling core within the heat exchanger element, a higher-than-normal volume of heated air is forced into contact with specially configured heat extracting fins, resulting in more heat removal per unit of energy expended; or, said another way, resulting in less energy needed to remove a specific amount of heat. This is the process we call Augmented Convective Cooling

A Raft’s energy efficiency is maintained whether the cooling protocol is fully recirculated water or coolant, ambient air alone, ambient air in combination with water or coolant (to accommodate low dew point conditions), or evaporative in either high or low dew point conditions.

DCK: What’s your sense of how the modular data center market will evolve? What’s the upside, and what are the obstacles to growth?

Harms: We feel the use of purpose-built modules for housing IT equipment will realize its true potential as the customer base expands from its current locos within mega data centers to the much larger number of smaller and medium-size entities that must also deal with the need to grow their computer capabilities to take full advantage of the cloud.  The reduced time and acquisition expenses plus lower operating costs make modules the prohibitive financial winner for these users.

With continued functional improvements, the concerns of IT professionals over their equipment’s performance and life span will ease and acceptance of the modules will become more widespread.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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