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POWER & COOLING Meeting the increasing demand for data centers through innovative power and cooling structures

| Author / Editor: Luke James / Jochen Schwab

Driven by digitzation, the demand placed on data centers is increasing rapidly and will continue to do so over the next few years, as will the power demand alongside it. In his PCIM Europe keynote, Huawei’s Roland Hümpfner considers potential future solutions.

The demand placed on data centers is increasing rapidly and will continue to do so over the next few years.
The demand placed on data centers is increasing rapidly and will continue to do so over the next few years.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

Data centers play a significant role in helping support the leverage of new technologies, particularly by companies and busines enterprises, in a way that is more effective and efficient. And as this becomes more widely known, the demands for new services are driving up demand and bringing a dramatic period of data center market growth.

Over the next few years, data center growth statistics are expected to rise by at least 12-14% per year, and 50% of all the world’s data traffic is expected to pass through larger data center facilities. To meet this demand, several companies are investing heavily to build new data centers and retrofit existing ones to incorporate the latest industry standards, including the latest in power electronics solutions and cooling structures.

What does current data center infrastructure look like?

Here is an overview of the power and cooling infrastructure of a large data center:

Data center infrastructure overview
Data center infrastructure overview
(Source: Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.)

In the middle, you can see the active IT component of the data center. This is known as “white space”. This is surrounded by the infrastructure. The white space mainly consists of 19in retros which are designed to host IT devices such as servers, storage components, and networking equipment. The red rows are arranged in a way that can separate hot and cold aisles in-order to improve the efficiency of the cooling system.

In-row cooling is also included which consists of an air-to-water heat exchanger. These are placed next to the IT racks so that the air is only circulated from rear to front, hot to cold. Water is processed by an outdoor unit to dissipate the heat.

All these technologies together help data centers meet aggressive energy efficiency targets.

How is data center energy efficiency evaluated?

To evaluate the energy efficiency of a data center during operation, power utilization effectiveness (PUE) was introduced.

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) is a technical metric that can be used to show the energy efficiency of a data center.
Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) is a technical metric that can be used to show the energy efficiency of a data center.
(Source: Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.)

With this, it’s possible to obtain a KPI for the overall data center’s infrastructure effectiveness and how efficient it is. Over time, PUE has been improved and is now considered highly accurate.

In a traditional data center, a PUE of 2+ is recognized as being “state of the art”, and it is cooling system optimizations that have enabled data centers to achieve this level of efficiency. In the future, further cooling innovations, such as immersion cooling, are expected to further improve PUE.

How are modern servers keeping up?

Due to high data processing performance, the power demand and power density of modern servers is continuously increasing. In the latest applications, we easily find 310 W per AI chip or a power consumption of 6.6 kW per AI server set. In an AI cluster, 56 kW per cabinet can be easily reached. Modern power infrastructure solutions therefore need to be able to keep up with these levels of demand which are only growing bigger by the day.

The power in a large data center is typically provided by one or more medium voltage supplies. As a contingency, if this power becomes unavailable, diesel-powered backup generators can usually step in with up to 72 hours of full load operation. Over recent years, strong improvements have been made in power architectures to prevent downtime and cut losses from around 20-30% to around 5%.

Innovation potential

Modern power electronic technology is a key driver for enhancing data center power infrastructure. With a focus on reliability, power density, and efficiency, very good system performance improvements have been achieved in recent years. In order to offer further benefits, reliable and long-life power electronics will be the future trend of innovation. This will allow maintenance-free solutions and a service life of 20+ years, according to Hümpfner.

The ongoing trend of modularization, which was touched upon during the keynote, will also allow future designs to be based on standardized building blocks. These could easily support different system architectures. Wide bandgap devices based on SiC or GaN, as well as advanced packaging and integration technologies of power converters, will bring interesting innovations to drive modern power system solutions.

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