NAPA – Core4 Systems, which applied its energy-saving cooling solutions to Sonic.net’s server room in Santa Rosa, is ready to take its product to a huge and growing market.

According to founder and partner Rick Cockrell, there’s $8 billion worth of data center cooling equipment due to be installed or replaced in a hurry.

“The EPA estimates server rooms are currently the fourth-largest consumer of energy in the U.S.,” said Mr. Cockrell. “In five years they’ll be the largest.”

Typically 40 percent to 60 percent of that energy goes to maintain proper temperature and humidity. Operating the cooling systems uses more water than agriculture.

“Data center economics have completely flipped in the last few years,” said Peter Christy, principal analyst of Internet Research Group. “In many cases the IT components – servers, storage and networking – are no longer the biggest cost factor; power and cooling have overtaken IT.”

Stored data is building up in data centers like food in a freezer, and keeping it cool with current systems is just about as inefficient, said Mr. Cockrell.

Dane Jasper, CEO of ISP and co-location provider Sonic.net in Santa Rosa, wanted to expand his company’s data center 100 percent but needed to contain its spiraling electricity cost.

Core4 produced a customized, super-efficient system that cut Sonic.net’s cooling costs by 72 percent and qualified for a $153,000 rebate from PG&E, which pays out 14 cents per kilowatt saved.

“We’ve cut our power utilization efficiency rating from 1.82 to 1.25 without sacrificing our temperature or humidity control,” said Mr. Jasper.

The system addresses each aspect of air cooling, from fans to coils to water use.

“We changed the fans to be more efficient, and since larger coils don’t have to work so hard, bigger is better. Our coils run at 50 degrees instead of the typical 35 degrees,” said Mr. Cockrell.

AC systems use lots of energy restoring moisture they’ve drawn from the air, so Core4 recycles air already circulating in the server room. And since the system is refrigerant-based without bringing in cool air from the outside, the filtering process is minimal and doesn’t require energy-burning air pumps.

Mr. Cockrell has several patents pending on the technologies.

Core4 systems, customized for the individual data center, are not cheap. Sonic.net spent $518,000 on its 100-ton system and added $100,000 more in equipment to allow expansion by another 100 tons.

That’s why Core4 will initially target large customers. It has hired David Nurse, formerly North American vice president of industrial systems giant Ingersoll Rand, as president and COO, and intends to benefit by his connections.

Google, Apple, Cisco Systems and the departments of defense and energy are on its short list. Core4 is also looking for strategic partners in complementary spaces.

“IBM is very interested in a company that significantly reduced server-energy use. We’d love to partner with them,” said Mr. Cockrell.

Core4 got started with an investment from Bell Products, where Mr. Cockrell still acts as lead engineer. Although speedy growth is slated for the company – its current staff of five is expected to grow to 245 within a few years – Mr. Cockrell is wary of venture capital.

“Ideally our growth will be organic. We’ve applied for a grant from the DOE for hiring and training funds, and since the industry is depressed right now we don’t expect trouble finding enough qualified employees.”

Core4 is scouting for a manufacturing facility of about 120,000 square feet, most likely near the Napa Airport.

The company’s goal, he said, is to develop long-term relationships with its customers, eventually including small to mid-size ISPs and IT companies.

“The dollar savings from our system are so dramatic that we’ll be able to install a system at no cost and allow the customer to pay us from the money they’re not spending on energy,” he said.