Engineers: DC Power Saves Data Center Dough

Engineers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and about 20 technology vendors this month will wrap up a demonstration that they said shows DC power distribution in the data center can save up to 15 percent or more on energy consumption and cost.

The proof-of-concept program, set up at Sun Microsystems’ Newark, Calif., facility, offered a side-by-side comparison of a traditional AC power system and a 380-volt DC distribution system, running on both Intel-based servers and Sun systems.

The program measured energy efficiency at both the facility and rack levels. The findings backed up the researchers’ expectations, said project leader William Tschudi.

“Our goal was to show that you could really do this with commonly available products,” said Tschudi, in Berkeley, Calif.

The proof-of-concept has been running since June, and has hosted several open houses, giving businesses and technology providers alike a look at the advantages of DC power, Tschudi said.

The group has scheduled two more open houses at the site for Aug. 9 and 16 before it’s dismantled, and will issue a final report in the fall.

At the same time, they will begin taking the next steps, including looking for a large business willing to become an early adopter by setting aside part or all of its data center for a DC power distribution system, Tschudi said.

DC power is getting a look as businesses and technology vendors search for ways to address the growing problems of energy consumption and heat generation in the data center.

A combination of smaller and more powerful processors, greater server density and rising energy costs have made power and heat key data center concerns over the past few years.

The costs are such that Bernie Meyerson, chief technology officer of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, said Aug. 1 that by next year, many companies will be paying more to power and cool their data centers than for the products that they put into them.

Chip and systems makers are making strides in hardware, software and management to address the issue, including more efficient processors and management software that gives administrators greater control over the thermal issues.

Some observers say that such technologies make solutions like DC power less relevant, particularly if bringing in a DC distribution system means having to spend a lot of money to retrofit an existing data center.

A DC system also would mean having to bring in larger cables than now exist with AC power. DC power is more of a niche idea that could help high-end users with large data centers, but will have less use to many other businesses, according to critics.

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