By Ed Spears, Product Marketing Manager, Eaton Critical Power Solutions Division, Raleigh, North Carolina, US
Data center energy costs as a percent of total revenue are at an all-time high - emerging as the second largest operating cost in the IT organization, behind labor. The five-year cost for powering and cooling the data center now exceeds the cost of the servers themselves. A million dollars' worth of server hardware will consume about $400,000 of power a yearfour times what it was less than a decade ago. That figure is likely to reach 1.2 million dollars a year by 2011. You would expect energy costs to rise with increases in processing demand, but not this much. It doesn't have to be this way. Within the power distribution system are untapped opportunities to reduce energy consumption and heat output. Traditional power distribution systems rob a lot of the power that comes into the data center. Every element in the power chain takes a little bit of that power to do its job, and each element wastes a little bit of power too. By the time the power has passed through power protection systems, power distribution units (PDUs) with transformers and finally through server power supplies, more than half of the incoming power has been used up or wasted. The wasted power is dissipated as heat, which drives up cooling costs. Ultimately, only about 40 percent of the power brought into the data center is actually used for processing data. If you think that's unacceptable, you've got lots of company. There has been a lot of positive momentum to address this issue. For example, under legislation signed by President Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is studying energy use in data centers. EPA work will likely result in benchmarks to assess the energy efficiency of servers, processors and other data center equipment, just as the EnergyStar program has done for home appliances and office equipment. At Eaton's Innovation Center in Cleveland, Ohio, we have been conducting our own research along these lineslooking not just at individual components but also at end-to-end efficiency of the power delivery system. We found that by modifying the voltages at which power was distributed in the data center, we could dramatically reduce the cost and energy consumption of power equipment. Traditional powering in U.S. data centers480VAC Today's 480VAC power distribution systemsthe standard in most U.S. data centersare not optimized for efficiency. In a legacy 480V data center, the uninterruptible power system (UPS) might be about 94 percent efficient. The PDUs are about 98 percent efficient, and the servers about 84 percent. That means a little bit of power is being skimmed off at each step along the way. Power gets converted between AC and DC five times along the way. End-to-end efficiency ends up being about 77 percent.
A compelling alternative400VAC power The 400VAC power distribution modelcommon in Europe, Asia and South Americaoffers several advantages compared to 480VAC and 600VAC. For one, the neutral is distributed throughout the building, eliminating the need for PDU isolation transformers and delivering 230V phase-neutral power directly to the load. You reduce costs by omitting the isolation transformers and branch circuit conductors that are required in 480V and 600VAC systems. With only three points of power conversion, end-to-end efficiency is about 79 percent. That doesn't sound like much of an increasetwo percentage pointsbut the dollars add up fast, especially in data centers with redundant, dual bus power systems.
Why not use DC power distribution to eliminate all those AC/DC conversions? That question has been asked for 20 years. Telecommunications equipment, for instance, is powered by -48V DC power. Ma Bell took this approach all those years ago because cables were run in corrosive and damp conditions, and low voltage was needed to protect the safety of line technicians. For data center applications though, -48 DC requires such large, expensive copper cabling to deliver a relatively small amount of power for any distance. Higher DC voltage shows a lot of promise though. In 2007 the California Public Energy Commission did a study on 380VDC and found it was 5-7 percent more efficient than best-in-class AC systems. They theorized that up to 28 percent improvement is possible over today's average AC systems. Trouble is, there are few standards for high-voltage DC power outside of industrial applicationsnone for IT systems. Not much IT equipment will run on this power. And there are safety issues to be addressed. So 380VDC is promising, but at the moment it is a future vision. The prevailing Canadian power system600VAC A 600VAC power system offers certain advantages over 480V and 400VAC systems, but inherent inefficiencies make it impractical for most U.S. data centers. The 600VAC system offers a modest equipment cost savings, requiring less copper wiring into the UPS and from UPS to PDU. Lower currents also enable less heating of the wires, reducing energy cost. Certain UPS/switchboard configurations offer capacity gains at nominal cost and with no increase in switchgear footprint. The primary drawback to 600VAC power, compared to 400VAC, is that the distribution system requires multiple isolation transformer-based PDUs to step down the incoming voltage to 208/120VAC. These extra PDUs add significant cost and reduce overall efficiency to about 77 percent, the same as traditional 480VAC power distribution.
The business case for 400V In the Eaton study of distribution options for applications ranging from 300kVA to 10MW, the 400V alternative was the clear winner. Across every load range evaluated, the 400VAC system: