Powering the Cloud - Efficiently

June 15, 2016 // By EDN Europe
By Mark Adams, AMP Group Spokesman and Senior VP at CUI
The use of Cloud data services is now ubiquitous and, while most users may have little comprehension of how it all works, as consumers we now take for granted the ability to conduct our lives online.

Whether we want to share news and photos with our friends, check our bank and utility accounts, stream music or download movies and other video content, or simply access the vast resource of information the Internet provides, we have come to rely on these services.

Businesses too are reliant on cloud connectivity and data services, with retail operations being one of the largest sectors. This is not, as you might think, just to support online shopping; physical outlets also generate huge volumes of data and, according to Cisco, a large store may collect 10GB per hour from retail transactions of which, up to 1GB may need transmitting to a remote data center. If this seems incredible then it pales into insignificance compared to the vastly higher volumes of data that some industrial operations produce. For example, an automated manufacturing plant can generate 1TB per hour while a large mining operation can easily exceed 100TB per hour. To top this, we have to anticipate the veritable explosion of data that will arise as the Internet of Things (IoT) connects sensors and controls to pretty much everything we encounter in our daily lives.

There are many aspects of Cloud computing, all of which pose challenging technical demands. Arguably, the capture of data at its point of origin and its upload to the Cloud are the easy bit, although that’s not to trivialize the sophistication of modern sensor technology or the bandwidth requirements of the transmission medium. However it is the ability to store and process all this information that lies at the heart of any Cloud service. Indeed the old adage that “information is power” underlines the importance of being able transform all this information into something useful that benefits the business and its customers. Unfortunately, the rub comes with the word “power” because, while knowing little else about the technology, the public has become very concerned about the energy consumption of data centers.

Needless to say, a lot of attention is being given to reducing this energy consumption, both in the servers, through more efficient processors, and in the associated storage and communications equipment. Nevertheless, there will always be some power losses from all the various electronic devices and this manifests itself as heat that has to be extracted and dissipated to the surrounding environment using extensive cooling plant, which itself consumes further energy. Recent novel methods to ease cooling requirements involve siting data centers in locations that have cooler climates or even underwater.

What perhaps has received less attention is the efficiency of the systems that supply power to all the data center electronics, especially given that the peak power consumption of server boards has continued to increase from several hundred watts to 2kW or 3kW today and potentially 5kW or more in the future. Additionally, the multiple, low operating voltages required by modern processor chips and associated logic devices translate to even higher currents than previously making it imperative that these low voltages are sourced as close as possible to the point-of-load (POL) to avoid ohmic power losses in equipment wiring