An engineer by trade, Danann Air’s Managing Director David McKay has been working with ‘air handling units’ for much of his career – developing unique experience in the design and manufacture of hardware to clean, circulate and cool air.
Based in County Dublin, Danann Air was launched by David and old school friend Micheál De Burca in 1997, and by 2000 the business had 10 employees with a turnover exceeding €2m. The company specializes in the design, manufacture and installation of customized air handling units for commercial and industrial use – most commonly we think of household air conditioning units, but the business also caters for industries such as aviation, retail and telecommunications.
David explains that the business was “ticking over as a local enterprise” and growing gradually until 2010, when they signed their first contract as a supplier for air handling units in AWS data centers. Rapid growth followed, and today Danann Air has grown internationally by supplying AWS and other businesses in countries such as Sweden, South Africa, India and Australia.
The impact of AWS investments in Ireland has been outlined recently by independent research organization Indecon, reporting that these investments are generating economic growth of €1.45 billion per year, sustaining 8,700 jobs and unlocking export opportunities for more than 550 local suppliers.
To find out more, we spoke to David about Danann Air’s growth journey, their focus on sustainable innovation, and the impact of AWS investments in Ireland.
Inspired by Irish mythology
‘Danann’ refers to Danu, the ancient Irish goddess associated with knowledge, wisdom, wealth and abundance – and the business remains true to these local customs and values.
“Going back to the 90s, we were relatively low-tech at the time!” David laughs. “But flick forward to now, and you see that the speed and scale of change in the industry is remarkable. We’re working with and supplying office blocks, airports, manufacturers, and all sorts of other big businesses. As we grow and innovate, it does no harm to keep in mind where we came from.”
Danann Air had enjoyed gradual growth until 2010, when their first contract signed with AWS – worth approximately €1m – added 25% to their turnover. “We delivered on that contract, signed another soon after – and never looked back,” he explains. By 2016, year-on-year growth was in double digits and turnover exceeded €15m.
Across industries, we're now seeing real change in Irish business and technical abilities. Ireland's potential is an evolving story!
In recent years, Danann Air has signed contracts to supply AWS in Bahrain, Sweden, South Africa and India. “The company also has orders for Melbourne in Australia and other new AWS regions, and no doubt more in the pipeline,” he adds.
Exporting internationally was “a real turning point for the business” and allowed them to purchase a new 30,000 square foot facility in 2015, and in 2017 they purchased a further 120,000 square foot facility on an 18 acre site in Drogheda, north of Dublin.
In 2020, turnover stood at €50m and the team is rapidly growing, with young engineers and apprentices joining the team in Ireland and abroad, including 13 new apprentice electricians appointed in the last year.
Keeping data centers cool
AWS is committed to running data centers in the most environmentally friendly way possible, in order to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for global infrastructure. To drive down carbon emissions, these commitments also include innovations in construction materials, energy management, water usage and air cooling.
Data centers need to be around 27oC for optimal performance, so coastal climates like Ireland are ideal – as this means cool temperatures are usually stable throughout the year.
However, data center temperatures still need to be managed and kept cool, so industrial-scale air handling units like those manufactured by Danann Air are a “cheap and simple alternative to refrigeration from vapor compression, for example.”
“An air handling unit in a data center, in simple terms, is like a big version of the fan in your computer. It moves air in order to manage the air temperature and the temperature of hardware around it. If not the right temperature, we can use something called evaporative cooling to transform water from a liquid to a gas, lowering the temperature of the air around the fan.”
“Regardless of any other factors, a data center needs a set quantity of air movement to stay cool, measured in meters cubed per second. In turn, you need electrical power measured in kilowatts to manage the cooling. We’re focused on innovating the hardware to continuously improve these numbers – reducing the overall kilowatts of electrical power required in the data center, maximizing efficiency of air flow, safeguarding the resilience of our systems, and ultimately reducing any wasted energy.”
That means everybody at Danann Air is focused on reducing the energy absorbed by data centers – and David’s team excels in this area: “Our work is a vital part of the design of data centers.”
Danann Air first proved success with AWS by proposing changes to fan-cooling systems in data centers which improved efficiency and effectiveness.
“The American engineers we were working with at the time were delighted with the evolution – and that felt like a real moment of recognition for our business. By eliminating points of failure, driving efficiency, cutting waste and doing it in a way that could be scaled globally, we were able to add huge value for AWS.”
Danann Air’s solutions have been adopted globally by AWS, including a tweak to data hall access doors which allowed air handling units to be serviced from within each data hall. The business also modified water cooling systems, meaning water is used sparingly within the cooling process.
In a highly competitive, tender-led commercial environment, David knows that the Danann team cannot stand still. Innovation, speed and collaboration are built into their culture: “We share ideas and have a flat hierarchy – at heart we’re just a bunch of engineers, so if you have a better solution, speak up and let’s crack on.”
“We’ve evolved past a formal management structure, and we’re focused on open collaboration. I can see the same qualities at AWS, which is one reason why we love working alongside them – if it’s a good idea, let’s make it happen – and then let’s scale it as quickly and effectively as possible.”
David adds that Danann’s innovation is linked to the wider industry: “We’re always interacting and co-operating with other areas of the sector, for example as new memory devices in servers are using higher temperatures, that creates new opportunities for efficiency in our equipment.”
“AWS makes it incredibly easy to scale up what we do, particularly when looking at new markets abroad – they provide strong market knowledge, existing relationships and an open and supportive culture as we expand.”
Looking ahead, David’s excited by innovations in areas such as renewable energy sources, water usage and air cooling. He’s also focused on the future of the industry through apprenticeships: “We need to get young people into our workforce, and we sponsor youth as much as we can to study further and become engineers. Just next door we have a 16-year-old working on a project right now. We want them to be part of an environmentally-conscious, global business.”
He adds that Danann’s growth trajectory can also be the story of Ireland, and he’s excited for the country’s future. “Ireland is forging a new identity as an industrial nation. Previously, too often we saw skilled people leave to work elsewhere. Across industries, we’re now seeing real change in Irish business and technical capabilities. Ireland’s potential is an evolving story!”
So how does David plan on keeping up with the speed of innovation?
“There’s an old saying: you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. Well, we’re a surfing company!”