By Katherine Tweed
It seems like just the other day that ABB Group (ABB), the global power and automation manufacturer, made another acquisition. Oh wait, it was. On Monday, ABB bought Mincom, which makes software for managing mining operations, for an undisclosed sum.
But the week isn’t over yet. On Thursday, ABB took a controlling interest in Validus DC Systems, which provides direct current power infrastructure for data centers instead of alternating current. ABB has always been in the high voltage DC business, and investing in the Brookfield, CT-based Validus helps them fill out their offerings and make a stronger play in the $24 billion market for telecommunications and data center power infrastructure.
“DC systems provide data centers with a game-changing advantage in both operational and capital cost savings and we believe they will be widely adopted in this energy-intensive industry,“ Tarak Mehta, head of ABB’s Low Voltage Products division, said in a statement. Rumors had swirled for months that Validus was up for sale. The company has worked with IBM, Oracle-Sun (ORCL) and HP (HPQ) (That's a piece of Validus equipment in the photo.)
A DC-powered data center is 10 percent more efficient than a state-of-the-art AC data center and 20 percent more efficient than a standard AC data center because of the fewer conversions incoming electricity must endure before it powers a server or storage system, Ron Ranaldi, vice president of sales of Validus, told us in a profile of the company in January. Another savings is floor space, as DC data centers require 25 percent to 40 percent less square footage than their AC counterparts, largely because computer equipment can connect directly to backup batteries.
In a hypothetical example, a 2.5-megawatt data center power module in the AC world might need 7,295 square feet, he said. An equivalent DC power module might occupy only 5,102 square feet, a savings of 2,193 square feet. What's more, a single data center might consist of several 2.5-megawatt modules.
“Real estate is often greater than the energy savings,” he said. “In large, green field datacenters, you are literally eliminating buildings.”
Facebook bases its Open Computer datacenters around a DC infrastructure. Other DC converts include JPMorgan (JPM), Sprint (S), and Bank of America (BAC). SAP also recently redid its Palo Alto headquarters to take DC.
ABB isn’t the only company with an eye on this market. Earlier this year, GE acquired Lineage Power Holdings, a company that specializes in fine-tuning power for servers, storage devices and other equipment inside data centers -- including components for DC data centers. Facebook has also invested in DC power for its servers.
The DC shopping spree may not be over, either. Nextek Power Systems makes similar equipment. Nextek also makes equipment to run LED lights off of solar panels in ceilings. Nextek execs tell us that the company frequently gets delegations from Asia to check out the technology. Schneider Electric, which owns AC powerhouse APC, has yet to buy a DC company. Just a thought. (Recently Redwood Systems has begun to tout itself as a DC company too.)
GE is also interested in exploiting the efficiencies of DC to power large equipment at isolated sites, like mining operations.
ABB bought Ventyx last May for $1 billion. Since then, Ventyx has acquired Obvient, and Mincom, which was also purchased this week, will become a part of Ventyx. ABB also bought electric motor maker Baldor Electric for $4.2 billion and Insert Key Solutions, which specializes in asset management software, in the past year. Schneider Electric, another European conglomerate, has also been on a shopping spree.
At ABB Automation & Power World in April, CEO Joe Hogan -- a GE transplant who has engineered the acquisition strategy -- said the company was still focused on homegrown R&D, despite the recent rash of acquisitions and investments. But he also noted that when they can acquire the right technologies for the right price, they’ll do so. The financial details of this deal were not disclosed, but it was rumored at less than $15 million with ABB having the option to fully acquire Validus.
So let's count the trends: DC power, increased investment in Green IT, and the European shopping bonanza. That makes three.Michael Kanellos contributed to this article.