Smart component selection can help create cooler, more efficient data center architectures that save money and resources.
The vast amount of energy consumed by data centers is a growing business, security, and environmental risk. Pre-pandemic estimates suggested that data centers would consume 20% of the world’s energy by 2025, but that figure will surely require revision in light of the mass transfer of social, labor, and educational activity to online spaces, as well as the increased use of cryptocurrency, the full implementation of computing-intensive 5G, and the accelerated timeline for the automation of human labor in the post-pandemic era.
Energy use in data centers is concentrated in two main areas: The energy used to conduct computing operations and the energy used to mitigate heat generated by the racks, servers, and other electronic equipment housed in data center installations. Reducing the energy consumption of these facilities depends on a combination of strategies. Companies are locating centers in cooler climates, installing water cooling systems that pipe cooled water throughout buildings, scheduling operating loads in accordance with peak availability of renewable energy, and designing or updating data center architectures to utilize hardware solutions.
Hyperscale data centers that maximize hardware efficiencies to reduce energy use and operating costs may be key to a sustainable computing future. The electronic components industry is identifying materials, designs, and design strategies that can be used to further reduce energy use in computing operations across networks. The Open Compute Project is one industry effort aimed at identifying the most efficient hardware strategies for data centers. Selecting each component and device for peak mechanical performance and thermal efficiency has a direct effect on energy consumption. Every component makes a difference, including connectors.
We talked to Natesh Kannan (left), global product manager for the Positronic power and hybrid product line, about how connector selection can make a difference in data center energy consumption.
What role do connectors play in reducing power usage in data centers?
Connectors are an integral part of the power shelf in any data center. There are several key factors to consider when choosing a connector in a data centers. Power, in general — defined as high power, low power, AC/DC power, etc. — can be managed at the connector level by choosing high-quality connectors that are designed for power density or linear current density. Size vs. power, current vs temperature rise, and, most importantly, the power efficiency of an individual connector should be evaluated for every new data center.
What potential cost savings or energy reductions can a single connector help achieve?
There are several ways we can achieve cost savings by choosing suitable connectors. One way is to reduce the number of connectors per rack. We sometimes do this by combining power and signal in one connector. Another is to choose a connector that can deliver maximum performance with the most efficiency. Choosing the right connector is tricky, as connectors that are cheap are typically not efficient. There is always a danger when choosing a cheap connector: It reduces cost at front end but, in the long run, cheap connectors will deplete more power. This energy consumption and the related increased cooling costs will easily cost multiples of a connector price over the service life of the connector.
How many connectors does a typical data center employ?
It could easily be around 50 connectors per rack, and a typical data center can house 50,000 to 80,000 servers.
How quickly does the cost of upgrading connectors in an existing center pay off in terms of energy costs savings?
Given the huge numbers of connectors involved, the cost of upgrading all the connectors in a data center is a big challenge. Again, we have to look at all the perspectives before we do that. It cannot be done all at once. That would cause a severe shutdown of the servers and the operating capacity of the data center. If properly planned and executed, however, connectors can be upgraded with success. In my opinion, you won’t see the effect immediately but, slowly and steadily, the changes will bring benefits. We can do easy math on this: Cost savings per rack times the number of racks in a data center equals overall reduced costs. Multiply this over a period of time and it can be a huge savings.
What new developments in connector design have made upgrading worthwhile?
New connector designs provide greater power efficiency by using advanced, high-conductivity materials for the pins. Another key characteristic of advanced connectors is the initial contact resistance of their contacts or pins. The lower this value, the higher the efficiency.
What strategies should designers of new data centers consider when specifying connectors?
Connectors can be expensive in terms of investment per rack, but the engineering justification for using better connectors can be provided by test data provided by connector suppliers. Smart engineers go for the most efficient connector for their design. The savings in operating costs offsets the higher initial cost of specifying efficient, high-quality connectors for the design.
The ultimate operating efficiency of a data center cannot be measured by cost alone. Designing an efficient center involves considerations that go far beyond the cost, particularly as these installations multiply across the planet. Yes, we should ask how our data center is impacting the environment. We should look at greener, more responsible architectures. Using the efficient connector to achieve cost savings is part of it, but not all of it. In the bigger picture, the contribution electronic components make to creating to more sustainable technologies matters.
Natesh Kannan holds an MS in smart product design from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He has 20 years of engineering expertise with sound product innovation and has held key roles with Positronic for more than 15 years.
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