Unlike software-driven innovation, electrical and mechanical technologies advance slowly. It’s hard to code your way around the laws of physics. Meaningful breakthroughs in data center power and cooling are rare, and new technologies that do get introduced take a long time to gain critical mass on the market.
Perhaps that explains why neither of the two big technological trends big vendors in the space agree will be especially visible this year is a result of recent innovation. Direct liquid cooling, which they expect to sell a lot more of in 2019, has been used in computing systems for decades; and lithium-ion batteries, which are now steadily taking over for lead-acid batteries in data center UPS systems, have been in commercial use since the early nineties.
These and other data center power and cooling trends vendors we surveyed highlighted for 2019 are driven by common industry undercurrents. Computing infrastructure is starting to get more distributed and putting more computers in more places drives the need for smaller footprints. Hyper-convergence collapses the traditional compute, network, and storage components into a single integrated system, which takes less space to do more but needs more power and produces more heat per square foot. Both liquid cooling and lithium-ion batteries directly address the problem of high-density computing in compact footprint.
But edge computing deployments are just starting, and we have yet to see this distributed infrastructure reach real scale. A bigger and more immediate factor driving up data center power density today is the breakneck infrastructure expansion by cloud giants – the likes of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. As they race to grow their computing capacity, these companies are deploying higher-density systems to run more traditional workloads, while also installing more and more specialized machine learning systems that require direct liquid cooling or liquid cooled rear-door heat exchangers.
Schneider Electric’s data center division is looking at direct liquid cooling as its next big growth area, Steven Carlini, VP of innovation and data center at Schneider, recently told us. He expects hyperscale data center operators, the cloud platforms, to drive most of the demand. These customers are looking at all the options, Carlini said, including direct-to-chip and full immersion.
Here’s a collection of quotes (lightly edited) by executives from the leading data center power and cooling equipment vendors surveyed by Data Center Knowledge, highlighting these and other big trends they expect will shape this industry segment in 2019:
Lithium-ion continues its conquest of the UPS market
- Peter Panfil, VP, global power, Vertiv: “Lithium-ion battery options are taking an increasing share of the market for UPS batteries. They’re smaller, lighter and last longer, delivering a considerable advantage in terms of total cost of ownership. Vertiv shipped more than 100MW of lithium-ion batteries in 2018, a 300-percent increase over the previous year.”
- Hervé Tardy, VP and general manager of distributed power infrastructure, Eaton: “For distributed sites, the longevity of these batteries – eight to 10 years versus three to five years for lead-acid batteries – will make them a no-brainer to avoid the high cost of replacing the batteries in multiple locations after just a few years of operation, even though the upfront cost [of li-ion batteries] is still higher.”
Distributed infrastructure and staffing issues drive greater automation
- Peter Panfil, Vertiv: “As the industry struggles to cope with a growing skills gap, automation – especially in the area of critical power management – will become more prevalent across the data center. Society has become conditioned to simply expect technology to work, and that expectation extends to the data center.”
- Dave Sterlace, global head of data center technology, ABB: “As data center companies expand to have global footprints, autonomous control and remote monitoring will be critical for fleet management.”
- Hervé Tardy, Eaton: “Automation of mitigation actions is becoming the norm, allowing the manager to focus on more critical processes that impact the bottom line. Power problems are fairly easy to model and anticipate, which, with the right tools in place, can lead to policy-based remediation plans that effectively meet managers’ needs.”
Rising compute densities drive adoption of direct liquid cooling and different power architectures
- David Klusas, senior director of global offerings management for custom and large systems, Vertiv: “High-performance servers are becoming more common for compute-intensive applications, and they are driving the need for new cooling techniques – specifically direct liquid cooling. The market is exploring multiple options for this technology, with everything from direct water-to-chip to fully submerged servers on the table. We’ll see progress on all fronts in 2019.”
- Hervé Tardy , Eaton: “Converged systems bring significant operational benefits, but they lead to a sizeable increase in power density at the rack level. Going beyond 10kW per rack is no longer an oddity, which will make in-rack power protection less viable. End-of-row UPS systems will probably be the preferred solution, but inside the racks the sprawl of redundant power supplies will lead to outlet densities close to one outlet per 1U height. This will require rack PDUs with full outlet-level switching and metering capabilities sporting a high count of outlets, typically 42 for a standard rack enclosure.”
The speed and scale of infrastructure expansion by cloud giants drive ever greater design standardization
- Peter Panfil, Vertiv: “While the data center remains too complex to accommodate true standardization, ‘normalized’ versus ‘bespoke’ design is dominating deployment discussions like never before. Customers are seeking the reduced costs and reduced deployment timelines that normalized designs deliver, and vendors are responding with standardized equipment components and design consistencies across geographies.”
- Dave Sterlace, ABB: “Large-scale prefabricated modules enable fast-tracked installations, which will be critical to the speed at which data center companies are growing.”
The edge demands greater power availability in more places, better monitoring, and better remote cooling management tools
- Peter Panfil, Vertiv: “The edge is becoming more critical and more complex, increasingly looking and operating more like a small data center than a traditional IT closet. The new edge is the key to a decentralized network that no longer relies upon the core. This new criticality creates increased demand for robust power architectures across the network.”
- Hervé Tardy, Eaton: “Edge will be bringing compute back on the grounds [on-premises] and this will have to be protected as well.”
- David Klusas, Vertiv: “As with everything at the edge of the network, thermal management solutions are becoming increasingly intelligent and easier to manage remotely. This starts with systems that are virtually plug-and-play, reducing installation and start-up costs. Easier integration with building management systems and remote monitoring provide visibility into thermal conditions and faster troubleshooting when problems occur.”