The Coming Hardware Revolution in Data Center Energy Efficiency

The Coming Hardware Revolution in Data Center Energy Efficiency

By Alain Bismuth, GaN Systems’ VP Data Center Business

During my first months at GaN Systems as the VP of the Data Center Business, I have had the opportunity to talk with data center operators and their hardware suppliers around the world. Two of the common themes that have arisen are about the needs for change around energy efficiency and power density. They relate specifically to the growing energy bills for data center operators, as well as the continuing competitive pressure on hardware suppliers.

Data and Energy Are Interdependent

Energy use is a critical challenge for data centers – not only for individual operators but also for this industry and even the world. Today, eight million data centers are needed to manage the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that are created each day from individual and business uses. And the pressure to build more data centers will only continue to mount in order to handle the growing global data load from both businesses and consumers – smartphones to IoT to increasingly autonomous vehicles and factories. With each data center using about the same amount of energy as a mid-size city, this sums up to an astronomical 416 Terawatt hours of electricity by the industry each year.

It’s not new for data centers to be looking for new sources of operational efficiency. Energy is an important part of that equation, accounting – when you include cooling – for around 40% of operating expense. To date, the leaders in the industry have made significant commitments to addressing the issue through increased use of renewable sources and AI-informed real-time management.

The data center industry is now looking for additional solutions to their increasing appetite for energy. Hardware is becoming an important part of a forward-looking solution set, involving improved architectures as well as more effective implementations.

For example, the move to GaN technology across the board – UPS, AC/DC PSU, DC/DC converters – could yield for a Tier 1 data center more than $450M in annual energy savings, and an increase in revenue of $1.4B resulting from greater compute density.

The Evolution of Hardware Solutions Using GaN Semiconductors

Legacy silicon solutions are reaching their plateau. Yet the industry continues to demand higher levels of efficiency and power density. As a result, the conversation among leaders is no longer about ‘if’ GaN technology will be deployed. It is being deployed now. We are seeing the adoption of new products using GaN semiconductors to change other power-reliant industries, including renewable energy storage systems, industrial equipment, and automotive. Data centers need to follow suit to achieve both significantly better energy savings as well as the expected reliability metrics of up-time.

The change in the marketplace is being driven simultaneously by both ‘pull and push factors‘ – with ‘pull’ coming from the data center operators’ demands for better solutions, and ‘push’ coming from the hardware providers who will use GaN technology to provide more competitive equipment.

Growing a Globally Sustainable and Profitable Industry

Across power-reliant industries, the C-suite is increasingly issuing a mandate for technologies and practices that will reduce their carbon footprint. The same is true for data centers. Energy is no longer merely a cost-revenue line item. The push for carbon-neutral headquarters is expanding to a near future need for carbon neutral data centers.

Looking ahead to 2019, there will be significant change within the data center industry around energy efficiency. The need for change is no longer optional, as global data center use of power is expected to more than double between now and 2020 – from its current 2% to 5% of the world use. New hardware solutions using technologies such as GaN semiconductors will be required by the industry –operators and suppliers – to address both their competitive business and financial goals, as well as their growing commitment to a more sustainable stewardship of the planet.