Why DC is Making a Comeback in Data Centers

April 12, 2018 at 8:00 AM


It’s safe to say that the environment has become a hot button issue lately. We are having more conversations about how people are affecting the environment and what we can do to lessen those effects. That said, did you know that data centers create an ecological footprint as big as the airline industry? In fact, in the last few years, data centers have consumed more power than the entire UK. Needless to say, data centers are energy consuming monsters. But what can be done to stop all of that energy usage? There’s no way we’re going to disassemble all of our data centers. That’s where DC power comes in.


At the end of the 19th century, there was the first ever battle for technology standard supremacy: alternating current (AC) vs. direct current (DC). In the end, AC came out on top. Though there are many DC devices still used today, AC has long reigned supreme as the primary standard for power. But now that we are rethinking energy usage, use of DC is again on the rise, especially high-voltage direct current (HVDC) which allows for low-loss bulk transmissions of electrical power over long distances.


Massive amounts of unused electricity disappear throughout data center systems. Energy is lost in cooling, air conditioning, processors and the distribution of power. Traditionally, data centers transform AC voltage into DC power and then convert it back into AC. The problem is that during each conversion from AC to DC and back to AC, energy disappears in the form of heat loss. This energy loss gets worse as the heat loss is cooled and discharged, which requires more components that create more heat.



Eliminating the conversion from DC to AC and using DC voltage in data centers might be a perfect solution. If a server is already using DC power, it can continue to be used throughout the chain and any incoming AC voltage can be converted to DC for distribution. Some studies have shown that avoiding multiple transformations and conversion can make power supply to the server 10% more power efficient.  Plus, the architecture of a DC power chain is made up of considerably fewer components than AC, which means less space needed for electrical infrastructure. Systems with fewer components can be installed faster, create fewer errors and are easier to maintain, making them more reliable and cheaper in the long run.


Thus, making the change to DC power could eliminate much of this power loss, save energy, improve the environment and help businesses, but it would require an industry-wide shift in perspective. Worldwide, data centers in several countries already use DC technology, but there are no standards for its use. Efforts are being made to standardize DC power, and while not all have been successful thus far, we might start to see a gradual shift from AC to DC. Skills and knowledge of DC technology will also need to be developed if this were to become the popular standard. Plus, there would need to be an increase in availability of DC components. DC systems do still have some heat loss, and they require air conditioning, fire protection, building control and access control systems. The biggest obstacle will be getting people to recognize that using DC in data centers could have enormous benefits. Once the perception begins to change, people will be more likely to switch to DC data centers and adopt new standards to make data centers more economical and environmentally friendly.


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