How is the power industry helping the datacenter meet the huge energy demands that mobile devices, cloud storage, and the Internet of Things all require?

Patrick Le Fèvre, Marketing and Communication Director, Ericsson Power Modules

Thirty years ago, Ericsson Power Modules launched the PKA family, the world’s first high-frequency switching DC/DC power modules. Ever since, power modules have been tightly connected to the evolution of the ICT industry, with new Distributed Power Architecture (DPA) solutions developed to meet the huge energy demands it requires.

Board-mounted DC/DC converters have now reached 97% efficiency, which contribute to reducing both energy consumption and heat, resulting in lower demands on cooling. However, the most significant advancement to power management in data center applications is the evolution from pure analog DC/DC conversion to digital. Adding a digital dimension to an already highly efficient analog power-train opens important opportunities for dynamic and pro-active energy optimization and power virtualization.

A key example of applications contributing to reduced energy consumption and greater efficiency is the inter-relationship between the on-board traffic manager and the Intermediate Bus Converter, which can adjust the Intermediate Bus Voltage according to data traffic conditions. For example, the bus voltage automatically adjusts to 8V when data traffic is low and move up to 13V when traffic increases to guarantee full power to strategic loads. This technology, named Dynamic Bus Voltage, is just one among many digital power management solutions that can be adopted to save energy in data centers.

To respond to higher capacity demands of data center operators, servers and IP routers, ICT manufacturers will need to increase computing power and the number of gigabits per second (or even terabits per second). Such activity will result in dramatic increases to board power consumption. Typically, today’s power per board is close to 1KW but this is forecast to reach 3KW by 2016. How can such power supplies be generated and sustained efficiently by board mounted DC/DC converters? New technology solutions such as Fragmented Power Distribution and Power Islands, with their unprecedented performance, control and flexibility benefits, are positioned to address the challenges faced by system architects.

So the implementation of digital power management is going to be pivotal to supporting data center equipment manufacturers when considering how multi-kilowatt boards are going to be powered while optimizing energy consumption.

Karim Wassef, General Manager of the Embedded Products business Unit for GE’s Critical Power Business


Fundamentally, this boils down to two needs; the rapid deployment of new data centers that are easy and ready to use as quickly as possible and improving the availability and throughput to existing and new data centers.

Addressing the first, the power industry is providing a number of alternatives for rapid deployment. Containerized solutions represent a modular and flexible option that enables on-demand growth with minimal site investment. High density standard UPS and DC battery solutions also enable rapid turn-key deployments to capture the growth in demand.

In terms of availability, eco-priority options with smarter power controllers allow the use of different power sources depending on need and availability. Solar, wind, generator or grid power can be managed to minimize downtime and maintain a constant flow of the least expensive power to a data center.

Battery technologies with increased discharge depths facilitate greater use of storage and spatial density. This enables power growth in smaller existing infrastructures and even greater power capability for new deployments.

Throughput power is augmented with increasing efficiency. As the industry moves towards reducing the number of power stages, the flow-through power becomes more abundant and less expensive. This simplification and increased efficiency reduces the total power footprint and cooling needs. The result is increased computational content supporting the surge in data center demand.

Finally, board-level components to support the increased power needs are becoming smaller, more efficient, more intelligent and easier to use. With digital power data acquisition at the board level, the larger patterns of power consumption for data center use allow for BIG DATA and BIG ANALYTICS to find options for improved utilization of existing infrastructure.

Wade Vinson, Distinguished Technologist, Power and Cooling Strategist, HP

Density, tiers, time-to-market, green computing, and availability of resources – there is no one size fits all. But in all of these aspects, the industry needs to be giving the customer choices that optimize their total cost of operation.

A technology that delivers power for $0.02 kWh is great, but if the cost of entry is $30M, and the lifetime service costs are $20M, that technology may only make sense when applied to the mega-transnational data centers.  As an industry, we want to give the 50kW computer room and manufacturing cell or the 500kW data center the ability to get the same efficiency and economics as the mega-centers.

Manageability: It’s a multi-vendor world, but it can’t be up to operators to try and integrate 12 different systems that measure power factor, harmonics, per rack power, cost of cooling, fault topologies, and so forth.  Industry leaders are driving an open standard with a common set of protocols to ensure that the network operations center for a company with 20 data centers can see all aspects of their power just like the IT manager  trying to manage the power for file shares, mail servers, and payroll systems.

And finally there’s Transparency. How can a business make economic and CO2 decisions if they are not measuring it or being graded against it? A peanut-butter smear of cost of power is easy, but it eliminates the incentive to improve. Why would a company want to use new “risky” technologies like free-air cooling, fuel cells or offline UPS, if the benefits of lower cost of operations for using these newer better things can’t be reaped?

In a world where the software application is king, then the way it’s powered and cooled is queen. And we all know who really makes the decisions, don’t we?

Bharat Shenoy, Littelfuse

The goal of the power industry within the datacenter segment is all about power efficiency, energy savings, reduced heat generation, cost, and space savings. Cloud computing, mobile computing, and the ubiquitous expansion of having access to large amounts of data in real-time on many different types of mobile platforms is driving the growth of very powerful datacenters. These datacenters are often custom designed by the company. For example, Google, Amazon, and Facebook tend to design every aspect of the datacenter down to the power architecture. One trend occurring is attempting to distribute all DC within the datacenter to reduce the need for AC/DC conversion which reduces efficiency losses and costs. Some datacenters have been built where the utility grid AC is immediately converted to high voltage DC at the entrance to the datacenter. This high voltage DC is then efficiently distributed throughout the datacenter with low copper losses and reduced conversion needs as it gets closer to the black-box appliance using the power. Another trend is removal of the battery back-up system and the placement of this battery back-up directly on the server platform. So, rather than one large lead-acid based battery bank, several small Li-ion battery packs are placed on each server board.

Mick Chippendale, Product Engineer, Murata Power Solutions

Today’s data centers face significant challenges of high energy demands due to the consumption of power through all elements of the system architecture. As such it is incessantly important for designers in all aspects of the power system to reduce waste energy dissipation due to system inefficiency.

The power industry’s drive towards the elimination of the waste energy, which is primarily thermal, directly assists the datacenter to reduce their overall energy demand and the reliance on cooling systems that also contribute themselves to energy waste.

Data center servers tend to offer limited space for power supplies, with the power supply form factor for server blades and data storage system becoming standardized. Consequently power supplies with higher power density and high efficiency and fitting into the compact form factors are required Power density has become one of the most critical objectives for power supply designers.

One example of this focused effort is Murata Power Solutions’ D1U54P power module. With a power density of 28W/in3, it delivers almost 10% more power when comparing to industry benchmarks. The product also assists data centers in reducing power consumption by offering efficiency >94% in a compact form factor that achieves both an efficiency level exceeding the requirements of the 80PLUS Platinum standard and also minimizes the demand on the host equipment’s valuable space constraints.

To further help meet energy demands, power supplies with standard I2C digital interface bus operating on the PMBus management protocol and command set allow the host system to actively tailor its operation by providing an element of control and measurement of the power consumption.

Stephen Oliver, vice president, VI Chip product line, Vicor

Datacenter processing requirements and associated power demands are accelerating at a staggering rate, driven by a host of compute-intensive business, research and consumer applications such as the ‘triple play’ of voice, video and Internet via mobile phones. This is yielding increasingly glaring power and cost inefficiencies, and has re-opened the centuries old Tesla/Edison debate over AC vs. DC power distribution, challenging our current thinking about grid level power management.

To close these efficiency gaps, datacenters are beginning the transition to higher voltage DC distribution infrastructure and achieving impressive results. Full-scale 380 VDC-based datacenter installations have delivered between 8% to 10% aggregate energy savings (source: France Telecom/Orange and China Mobile). A 380 VDC system offers several advantages; the biggest being the streamlining and simplification of the power chain, reducing conversion stages, components, the associated parasitic elements, and the connection and mounting infrastructure. Increased efficiency also ensures less waste heat, which at the board level minimizes the thermal impact on adjacent components and at the facility level helps to lower air-conditioning costs.

Recently published specifications from the ITU and ETSI, surging interest in working groups including IEEE, NFPA and the EMerge Alliance, and the introduction of new HVDC-optimized power conversion solutions have accelerated the adoption of 380 VDC architectures.

The INTELEC conference in Hamburg (October 2013) featured real-world datacom facility-caliber 380 VDC power distribution, control and interconnect demonstrations. Rising interest in higher voltage DC distribution was evident in the growing number of high-profile vendor participants joining the technical discourse, with fast adoption rates. Vicor’s early commitment to this industry effort has given us invaluable insight into datacom-scale power challenges, leading to high performance products available today to meet the needs of the industry and unlock the full promise of higher voltage DC distribution.