Decrease OPEX Using GaN Power Conversion

Oct. 1, 2018
This is the third entry in a four-part Data Center Frontier special report series that explores how Gallium Nitride, or GaN, is showing significant benefits for data center equipment refreshes. This post covers how data centers can decrease OPEX using GaN power conversion, as well as use cases that illustrate the benefits of GaN. 

This is the third entry in a four-part Data Center Frontier special report series that explores how Gallium Nitride, or GaN, is showing significant benefits for data center equipment refreshes. This post covers how data centers can decrease OPEX using GaN power conversion, as well as use cases that illustrate the benefits of GaN. 

Download the full report.

Understanding why power system manufacturers view GaN as an attractive technology only sets the stage for understanding GaN’s literal potential impact in a data center environment.

The following hypothetical scenarios are calculated using methods outlined in the white paper: A Simple Model for Determining True Total Cost of Ownership for Data Centers. Notably, they only demonstrate effect on a simple data center profile, understanding that there are far more complex facility designs and power architectures.

The example data center consumes about 4.4 MW of power.

Silicon-based data center profile

  • PSU power efficiency: 94 percent 80 Plus Platinum
  • Current deployment: 9,167 servers x 500 W
    • Rack power = 16 kW
    • Number of racks = 160
  • Floor space: 40,000 ft2
  • Server capital cost savings: baseline
  • Server direct cost savings (electricity): baseline

Keeping the data center at the same power consumption level of 4.4 MW, introducing high-efficiency GaN power supplies has the following impact:

GaN-based data center profile

  • PSU power efficiency: 96 percent 80 Plus Titanium
  • Current deployment: 8,800 servers x 500 W
    • Rack power = 16 kW
    • Number of racks = 153
  • Floor space: 38,250 ft2
  • Server capital cost savings: $73,400
  • Server direct cost savings (electricity): $79,200/year

Inside one of the color-coded power rooms inside the TierPoint data center in Allen, Texas. (Photo; Rich Miller)

The change in power semiconductor choice equates to:

  • A 2-percent increase in power efficiency
  • A direct savings on electricity of $9 per server, per year
  • A capital cost savings of $200 per server
  • Reduced build-out costs for a fully commissioned facility of $1M

With higher efficiency power solutions, marked savings in OPEX and capital expenses can be realized.

High Voltage GaN Use Cases

High-voltage GaN power applications are in production and performing as intended, legitimizing the previously outlined value propositions. Use cases follow that demonstrate benefits in power supplies for high-end consumer computing and enterprise server and network applications, setting a true baseline for what can be realized within data center equipment. Interestingly, the consumer computing supply originally targeted PC gamers, though quickly found a home with cryptocurrency mining enthusiasts and artificial intelligence applications due to its unprecedented performance.

CUSTOMER: CORSAIR

Customer Product: AX1600i Power Supply Unit
Target Market: Consumer Computing/PC Gaming
Market Impact: First Known GaN-based PC Computing Power Supply
GaN Supplier: Transphorm

Overview: CORSAIR supplies the PC gaming community with high-performance peripheral and computing products for custom PCs. In January 2018, the company launched its first high-voltage GaN power supply unit (PSU) — the AX1600i — establishing a new class of AC to DC high-end computing PSUs.

Dubbed the “Emperor of Efficiency” by AnandTech, the new PSU achieves greater than 99 percent efficiency in the rectifier stage and earns a rating of better than 80 PLUS Titanium when operating at a low-line 115 V.

When compared to its award-winning predecessor (the AX1500i), the AX1600i offers the following GaNdriven benefits:

  • 2 percent AC to DC efficiency increase, yielding >99 percent
  • 100 W power increase from 1.5 kW to 1.6 kW
  • 6.3 percent reduced system cost from 0.30 $/W to 0.28 $/W
  • 12.5 percent smaller enclosure (by 25 mm)
  • Same thermal performance (50°C continuous output at full load)
  • Same PSU retail price for higher performance
  • A 10-year warranty

“Our objective was to take an already award-winning PSU and make it better,” explained Jon Gerow, PSU R&D manager, CORSAIR. “We aimed to maximize output from any PC running on a 115V mains. To do this was, we had to adopt innovative methods and materials. GaN ultimately gave us the boost in performance, efficiency and size we wanted along with the high quality and reliability we needed to confidently release the AX1600i to our customers.”

CUSTOMER: BEL POWER SOLUTIONS

Customer Product: TET3000 Power Supply Unit
Target Application(s): Enterprise Reliability Server, Router, Network Switching Subsystems
Market Impact: First Known GaN-based Enterpriselevel AC-DC Power Supply
GaN Supplier: Transphorm

Overview: Bel Power Solutions provides intelligent, efficient and reliable AC to DC and DC to DC power conversion devices. Applications range from board-mount power to system-level architectures for servers, storage, networking, industrial and transportation. In May 2017, Bel Power released the first GaN-based AC to DC front-end PSU, the TET3000. The product is certified for 80 PLUS efficiency and earned a CE Mark per the European Commission’s Low Voltage Directive, having achieved a greater than 96 percent efficiency with a volume power density of 31.7W/in.

“Bel Power’s legacy of leading the global power management industry is built on responsible innovation that empowers our customers.” — Alain Chapuis, CTO, Bel Power Solutions.

The TET3000 is 2.72 x 1.59 x 21.85 inches, small enough to meet 1U end-system design requirements. And, when compared to a standard, silicon-based interleaved boost converter, the new PSU delivers the following GaN-driven benefits:

  • Higher power density: 50 percent improved inductor utilization and lower component count deliver the same power in a smaller footprint.
  • Higher efficiency: Faster switching speeds lower crossover losses by 20 percent to 30 percent.

“Bel Power’s legacy of leading the global power management industry is built on responsible innovation that empowers our customers,” said Alain Chapuis, CTO, Bel Power Solutions. “The TET3000 is a result of that commitment. After considerable R&D weighing various semiconductor materials and power system designs, GaN proved the most reliable, highest performing solution possible today. In turn, our customers gain access to a next-generation power supply that stands to outperform incumbent solutions while delivering a greater ROI.”

For market response to these two use cases, see the full report. 

This Data Center Frontier series focused on data center efficiency and GaN power conversion will also cover the following topics over the coming weeks:

Download the full Data Center Frontier Special Report, “Optimizing Data Center Power Efficiency: How Forefront GaN Technologies Show Significant Benefits for Data Center Refreshes,” courtesy of  transphorm. 

And for further coverage, check out Data Center Frontier’s page dedicated to the GaN market that will provide the latest stats and info on the power conversion tool that has the potential to change the landscape of the modern data center.

About the Author

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman is a veteran, enthusiastic technologist with experience in data center design, management and deployment. Bill is currently a freelance analyst, speaker, and author for some of our industry's leading publications.

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