Anyone who believes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks has never worked with Airedale by Modine. The UK-based cooling specialist has been around for 50 years, while its parent company, Modine goes back even further, having manufactured the radiators for the original Ford Model T car.

With that kind of pedigree in thermal management, you could be forgiven section for thinking that they might be stuck in their ways, but nothing could be further from the truth, with the company continuing to diversify and innovate its data center cooling offerings to reflect the demands of AI and machine learning.

DCD spoke to Richard Burcher, global product manager of liquid cooling, and Seamus Egan, general manager of immersion cooling at Airedale to talk about the company’s recent acquisition of liquid cooling specialist TMGcore, and its plans to offer a complete cooling solution for the GPU age.

“TMGcore is a specialist provider of single-phase and two-phase liquid immersion technology that Airedale has long admired," explains Burcher. “The addition of TMGcore expands us into their existing global data center systems offerings and combines our air and liquid cooling into a hybrid approach that will allow us to support the future requirements of critical customers, as they begin to manage the transition into that higher grade high-performance compute.”

But as is so often the case, the whole this creates is greater than the sum of its parts:

“The acquisition includes IP and assets which helps us dramatically with our product and system portfolios and ensures that we are ready for the most current technologies on the liquid side. That allows us to have conversations around next-generation DCs planning for high-performance computing, where air-cooling and traditional mechanical cooling solutions may be insufficient. High-performance computing is typically augmented through liquid cooling or immersion cooling. Now we have an offering and a system asset in that space, which allows us to drive those best-fit technologies.”

Change is coming

Egan reminds us that these decisions are all about looking to the future, because, as we all know, there’s change coming at a lightning-fast pace:

“Today about 80 percent of data center densities are pretty low, all the HPC/AI/ML only accounts for 10 to 20 percent, depending on the customers' footprint. The ability to support hybrid and enable our customers to move gradually on that transformation journey is critical.”

He continues: “Joining with TMGcore adds another layer, allowing us to extend and scale up at the appropriate time, and address a lot of the whitespace needs that exist today. That's one thing that some people don't understand – there is whitespace that immersion cooling is perfectly suited for. That acts as a catalyst in having advisory conversations with our customers in colocation, hyperscale, and selected industries, such as the US Government, to help them chart a journey through this transformation we're seeing.”

Knowledge is power

But this isn’t simply about adding another subsidiary to the Modine Group. The combined knowledge of the two companies is already bearing fruit in the form of new products and system offerings. Burcher tells us, “We’re also pleased to announce the development of a cooling distribution unit (CDU) that will enable direct-to-chip liquid cooling. The development of that CDU is coming along strongly and we will be offering prototypes to critical strategic customers. If those customer markets and end-users have high-performance computing demands, we'll be ready with a solution for them.”

The company is working to bring the two companies together under the Airedale brand. “Airedale is our data center brand,” he enthuses. “It's synonymous with us in terms of being ingrained in our DNA. It's where we grew in terms of quality British engineering and is the banner under which we’re expanding globally. We have that pedigree, that experience. We'll be amalgamating the brands, as we continue to scale up beyond our regional and national boundaries, and continue to forge our place, as a truly global provider.”

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The decision to adopt the Airedale brand for the combined company reflects its sterling reputation, dating back to 1974. “We’re engineering first. It's the bedrock of everything – our brand ethos is all about our operational character. We have a strong name in the industry, strong ethos, and focus and that will be the driving force behind the global expansion. We're already known and respected globally as we continue to grow responsibly.”

Burcher adds: “The big thing is the culture we both share and the propensity to grow at scale. That helps, when you're going in the same direction it makes that integration seamless moving forward.”

It’s not just Burcher who is enthusiastic. Egan tells us: “The synergies are just astounding. It's just mind-blowing, what capabilities we now have across the entire continuum. The nuggets I'm discovering through this process, like the advanced R&D capabilities we have around advanced thermal management, are just a jewel we can benefit from.”

Complete control

One of Airedale’s advantages in the thermal management market is that it offers a complete software control suite for its products, capable of integration with popular DCIMs. Egan and his team are working to integrate TMGcore products into this offering, and he is emphatic about the competitive advantage this brings:

“The opportunity to deliver a single pane of glass for customers to optimize end-to-end is powerful. The notion of being able to integrate and standardize across our entire stack is compelling. We've got an entire business unit that focuses on intuitive controls, which is a huge asset that I can draw from to speed innovation, especially when you're looking at hybrid-based solutions.”

But, we ask, is this a sign that liquid cooling is set to take over from air cooling as the primary form of thermal management in data centers? It’s a hotly debated topic and one where Burcher has a clear view that the future is actually hybrid.

“In reality, whether it's CPU or GPU, air-cooling is required for both applications, where direct liquid cooling is being introduced. You've still got the cold plate, going directly into the server, dealing with the direct heat load and the rising Thermal Design Powers (TDPs) at the chip, but you still have that periphery heat across the whole data center. That can be done by CRAC/CRAH or rear door heat exchangers. When you're looking at things like AI, it feels like there's a bit of idealism in terms of people proposing 100 percent air-cooling facilities, or 100 percent liquid cooling. In reality, what we are witnessing is zones of dedicated, high-performance compute.”

So, that doesn’t mean that liquid is now Airedale’s primary focus?

“It's one primary focus! With the acquisition, we've acquired a specialist in single-phase and two-phase liquid immersion, which completes one of the heaviest lifts from a technology perspective and provides some of the largest benefits to the market. The addition of TMGcore expands the global offering we can provide and dovetails nicely with our other technology. It will certainly be one of the main pillars. What we also get with TMGcore, is that intellect – the research, the analysis, the relationships that these guys have. It doesn't just stop with immersion cooling, it branches into a knowledge base of direct-to-chip, precision-based immersion cooling, and allows us to further develop an overarching liquid and hybrid cooling strategy.”

People power

Not for the first time, Burcher has referenced human resources as a vital part of the puzzle in Airedale’s success. We ask if that’s important to the company’s philosophy. He tells us:

“Our greatest asset is our people. That's where we invest. We continue to recruit the best talent across the board and lean into our global operations to ensure that everyone is aligned, right from contract management all the way through.”

At a time when there is a recognized skills shortage in the industry, we ask how Airedale has continued to attract the right talent. For him, setting sights beyond the existing pool of the data center industry is a key element:

“We've got a good message at the moment and we're attracting the right talent. We have people who are coming to us proactively and we're looking for attitude as well as aptitude. It's also about balancing out talent from different industries, the skill sets that can be brought into the data center industry that might have been in a different facet before, like the military for example. When you're looking at things like commissioning, contract management, project management, there's a lot that we can learn from other industries and take on and that's what we're doing.”

The AI data center

While people are undoubtedly important, we couldn’t have a conversation involving AI without asking Egan about the possibilities of turning over some data center functionality to the machines – not to replace people, but to augment them. He tells us that it’s something on the roadmap.

“We can envision that down the road, especially with remote management and controls, where we've got distributed systems out there. In some cases, they won't necessarily want those systems to be networked and visible. However, the ability to be able to manage across a diverse portfolio is going to be important.”

It's also a matter he and his team have already given some considerable thought to:

“Data collection and analysis via our controls solutions is how we build intelligence and effectively fine-tune back to the individual components – down to a single control on the single fan upon a fan wall, which helps to balance the entire environment. That's where we start to get into things like predictive analytics, maintenance, and repair operations, which means we can drive improvement by incorporating those capabilities.”

Reusing heat

A hand-in-glove issue around data center cooling is that of heat reuse. With some countries already insisting on implementations for new builds, we ask where Airedale stands on growing concepts such as district heating. Burcher raises some issues that are often overlooked when considering what to do with that waste heat, starting by pointing out that a well-controlled, liquid-cooled data center may well have less heat to reuse in the first place.

“It depends on the use case because with immersion you also get a lot of efficiencies. The amount of waste heat is reduced because of the efficiencies of liquid cooling. We had a Canadian data center company that wanted us to do exactly that for a large-scale two-phase deployment. We found that the amount of waste heat wasn't viable – believe it or not, we would have to modify the system to try and capture enough heat to make that use case. It is a nice scenario that we've discovered because the immediate assumption is it's always going to be there.”

According to Burcher, it starts with asking a simple question: “Is it the efficiency of the chip and the compute to drive you down into lower temperatures, or are you looking at what potential you can reclaim now? People spend an awful lot of money on these GPUs. They want to run the compute as efficiently as possible.”

Airedale into the future

Finally, we look to what is next on the horizon for Airedale. Burcher explains, “The bigger picture revolves around continued, aggressive, but responsible growth. We’ve just announced another new plant in Bradford in the UK and will continue to invest in our global production capacity. We've continued to build out our on-the-ground support. It's that intuitive system-based approach that's the bedrock of our business. With that in mind, we continue to strengthen and launch control software, building management systems that intertwine the whole system. It's imperative to us. We continue to execute our bolt-on acquisition strategy, via our parent company Modine, to bring complementary products and technologies to our key growth segments, allowing us to climb further up that technology ladder.”

We give Burcher the final word on Airedale’s plans. His answer is simple and emphatic: “Stay tuned. There's plenty more to come from us – we're air, we're hybrid, we're liquid, and we're growing.”

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