ICDCM Presentation Highlights the Breadth of the Data Center Power Challenge

June 30, 2015

At the recent ICDCM conference, Maurizio Salato presented a paper with a graph that summarizes the range of voltages that are used and power that must be delivered in a data center:

Voltage, Current and Power Levels in Data Centers

In these facilities, the DC voltages used range from less than 1 V to 380 V, with the power chain required to supply currents from a few to several hundreds of Amps. Converters at the point-of-load might only need a throughput of few tens of Watts, while the engineers designing the systems that power and back up the supply to the whole facility need to deal with power requirements of several hundred kilo Watts.

In the past, relatively undemanding power density requirements and economies of scale meant that AC was used to distribute power to racks, which was then converted to DC and typically distributed at 12 V to the boards. AC also had to be converted to DC to charge back-up batteries, whose output must be converted back to AC to power the facility. This approach is complex and inefficient, requiring AC-DC conversion in several different places, including at the input to every rack.

Complexity and inefficiency wasn’t the only problem: as the value of rack real estate became more apparent to data center managers, the demands for improvements in power density also increased. Put simply data centers needed to put more processing power in each rack, and one way to do this is to free-up space by increasing the density of the power conversion systems.

The development of power components that provide a complete eco-system for DC distribution has enabled all-DC power in data centers. In particular Vicor’s switching topologies enable high voltage step-down ratios without compromising efficiency. Power system designers can therefore select the appropriate DC voltage to minimize losses and conductor sizes for the amount of power that needs to be transmitted anywhere in the facility, from the input to the rack to the processor on the motherboard.

By switching to an infrastructure that is entirely DC, data centers designers can increase energy efficiency, make power system design more straightforward and reduce the space required for power conversion. Designing data center power systems is still very challenging, but with new power components it’s possible to build better solutions that meet the requirements of optimizing efficiency, reducing cost and maximizing the density of computing power.


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