Sending 2kW of Power over Low-cost Data Cables

Sponsored by Vicor

VoltServer has developed a new of solution for energy delivery system with its patented Digital Electricity™ technology, that safely transmits up to 2kW of power across long distances (up to 2km) using low-cost, off-the-shelf data cables. Digital Electricity is a line powering system, which is a means of energizing remote equipment from a centralized location over structured copper cable. It safely runs high-voltage power over lightweight data cable and delivers low current downstream to power loads. It’s a natively digital form of electricity transmission that can be considered a third power format in addition to the AC and DC formats that were first harnessed nearly 150 years ago.

How does it work? VoltServer takes conventional electricity and breaks it into small pulses, or “energy packets.” Each packet is sent to a receiver from a transmitter that contains local, embedded processing. Each energy packet is analyzed using a digital signal processing engine to determine that power is being precisely and safely distributed. If a fault is detected, the next energy packet is not sent. Each packet contains only a very small amount of energy, so individually they are not harmful to people, animals, systems or buildings. The receiver converts Digital Electricity back into analog AC or DC to power local loads.

Plug-and-play Power Sources

Because of its inherently safe energy-transfer design, the VoltServer Digital Electricity platform can send power over a distance up to 2,000 meters using off-the-shelf structured copper communications cable and Class 2, low-voltage wiring methods. Similar to power-over-ethernet (PoE), this enables VoltServer to transport both digital data and power in a single hybrid cabling infrastructure, making it much easier and more economical to install than conventional 110/220 electrical systems.

This simplicity allows architects, designers and facility managers to quickly and easily configure and reconfigure wireless networks, office floorplans and agricultural grow rooms. And because the platform is natively digital, it provides insights into energy use with a centralized dashboard. This gives building operators and maintenance staff a granular view of their electric grid to better manage critical loads while eliminating the need for traditional circuit breaker panels.

Smart converters eliminate the need for cooling

Vicor Corporation has worked closely with VoltServer since they began product development. Vicor ruggedized, passively-cooled BCM® DC-DC fixed-ratio bus converters are designed into the receivers transforming the higher transmission voltage to a safe low voltage to power the loads.  The 97% power efficiency allows reliable cooling without a fan within a smaller enclosure. They provide the power efficiency that allows the receivers to be placed in tight, enclosed spaces that are too small to accommodate cooling fans.

This allows the VoltServer platform to operate more efficiently with much smaller heat sinks and significantly shrinks the receiver footprint. “With the Vicor converter, we have 43% less heat loss than a normal converter, and the heat sink size decreases proportionately,” said Dan Lowe, VoltServer co-founder and Chief Business Officer. “Our customers include the top three mobile network operators in the U.S., so the requirements for reliability are extremely demanding. That’s where Vicor comes in really, really neatly.”

VoltServer uses the Vicor compact BCM6123 fixed-ratio bus converter (0.99 x 2.402 x 0.286in) in the endpoint receivers to efficiently convert the power packets. Vicor BCMs use a proprietary, low-noise, high-efficiency Sine Amplitude Converter (SAC) topology that requires little electromagnetic filtration. This further shrinks the power system footprint and simplifies the design while meeting EMI standards.

For more information, click Digital Electricity

“Data Centers to Adopt High Voltage DC Power Sources”

Above: IBM’s Blue Gene computer paved the way for powerful AI Data Centers

“The large data centers are undergoing a deep structural change. We anticipate more datacenters moving away from Alternating Current (AC) in favor of 260-410V DC infrastructures to better cope with the massive increases in power needs of high-performance computing,” told Lev Slutskiy, Vicor’s EMEA Business Development Manager for High Performance Computing. “Google started testing the concept secretly back in 2015 and today companies like Nvidia are performing experiments with high voltage, that haven’t been published yet.”

According to Slutskiy, the Open Compute Project Foundation is also testing the new approach. The OCP was established 10 years ago by Facebook and now it brings together the biggest manufactureres of processors, servers and data center infrastructures. They are tackling an old electrical dilemma: Since the electric power is a multiplication of the voltage by current, using a high direct voltage at low currents saves a lot of energy (P = I²R). Until recently the problem was marginal: standard database servers consumed approximately 5kW each – and power systems that passed energy into the server circuits at a voltage of 12V and 416 Amps current – were good enough.

What can be done with 1,000 Amps

But times change and around 2015 the average power consumption of database servers increased to 12kW, with currents ranging up to 1k Amps. Most of the manufacturers dealt with the high currents using very large conduction cables, but this solution is beginning to reach the end of its ability. Especially in the last year in which the growing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning multiplied the power usage of the database servers: Vicor reports that in the large data centers the usage increased to about 20kW, and in some cases even to 100kW.

This means that the power distribution systems need to deal with huge currents of appoximately 1k Amps. At this point the OCP consortium started to define a format of database servers working at higher voltages of 48V. This decreases the current in the circuit by 4 and minimizes the power loss in the conduction cables by 16. Thus for instance, the current required for 12kW server will be only 250 Amps.

Vicor’s approach for direct power supply to the processors in the data center
Vicor’s approach for direct power supply to the processors in the data center

According to Jain Ajithkumar, Vicor’s Sr. Director for Strategic Accounts in Data Center, HPC and AI Business, this is just the first move in a larger trend and it holds further technological implications. “We are now at the beginning of a new era. The computer rooms will receive direct voltage of 350V, that will be converted to 48V at the racks level, and then to the exact voltage needed by each specific chip in the server.

“We are dealing here with two additional issues: today the processors work at 1.8V and 0.8V. When we minimize the width of the transistor to 5 nanometers, the voltage may reach down to 0.4V. There is a need for an advanced technology to answer this need – and to do it without compromising the space dedicated to the multitude of densed data links populating modern processors.”

Looking for the next Startup

This is where Vicor’s Factorized Power Architecture technology, originally developed for IBM’s 2007 Blue Gene supercomputer, comes into the picture. Blue Gene was powered by 350V, delivered through Vicor’s power distribution system, starting with high power rails, middle stages and ending with a dedicated chip directly connected to the CPU’s power connections. “We have developed a technique for pushing the power supply to each processor of Blue Gene.

“Now we are making that technology available for startup companies too, and therefore it is very important for us to exist in the Israeli Market. Out of all the influential startup companies in the world, just 5% come from Europe. Thus Israel’s foothold in the European market is very large. Today there are over 300 HPC startup companies in Israel, and most of the startups that are being sold to global companies are Israeli. We are offering to supply them with chips and full planning methodologies – including converting supply networks to voltages of hundreds of volts, bringing energy to the consumption point, lowering to a voltage of 48 volts and supply the required voltage for each processor.”