Data centre innovation

The figures of merit of a power supply continue to increase, with a data centre multiphase supply is peaking at 96% and full load at 93%. A 1% improvement in efficiency is a 15% saving in power costs, but its more about improving efficiency across the power curve, says Downing. “Across all sectors you are seeing a widening of current levels for both peak and light loads–in mobile devices you have quiescent currents in the low microamps and peak currents pushing 15A today and 20A in the future with the next generation 7nm chips. The same is true in the data centre, they spend a lot of time in idle mode and maintaining high efficiency at low current levels is critical.”

“Some of the data centre customers are actively talking to us about how to go beyond improving the efficiency of the power to the processor and talking about how to intelligently scale power across servers and the data centre and that requires new power management schemes and new interfaces, and some of the technology just isn’t there today,” he said. “It’s about how you get the communication across all these different processors, multiple servers and expand that so you are matching the power delivery to the needs of the data centre.”

However the chances of standardising this is low, he says.

“In the data centre world I don’t know if a standard is possible. Google has been innovating in 48V in data centres for point of load architectures and they recently donated that to the OpenCompute platform, but you wonder if they are already working on the next thing.

“We have been supplying public cloud data centres providers for the last three or four years, and we see the challenge of balancing standards with innovation. I tend to feel they favour the innovation and differentiation more than the standardisation. It does inhibit innovation. For example, you can take the common footprint such as the 6x6 HPmos module but we developed a 5x6 which is smaller and you save board area. You can end up in standardisation in a sub-optimal performance–there are always tradeoffs and you have to weigh those up.”

The Internet of Things is also driving new power management requirements for energy harvesting and ultra-low-power operation.

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“There are some real opportunities there for innovation and it’s something we are focussed on,” said Downing. “Our thoughts are on providing highly integrated PMIC type products that are optimised for very low power operation working with a small coin cell source or potentially an energy harvesting solution. That’s the initial focus. We have to be a little selective as the IoT is a little ethereal as to where the real applications will come from, so we are being thoughtful about where to target the initial markets. One of the higher volume markets is in the wearable market and the same IP we are developing there could be applied to sensor nodes but we would probably be doing that with the guys integrating the MCUs and RF.”

“For now we think the requirements are such that it’s not readily integrated. Ultimately, it likely will be, so partnering with those companies initially is the right engagement model,” he said. “We could license the technology for high volumes but many of the industrial markets don’t have those volumes and need more variants so the more diverse industrial IoT still represents a standalone product opportunity.”

Consolidation

“We have seen an acceleration in consolidation and it’s an interesting dynamic,” said Downing. “Customers are looking for a high level of support and more of a system level solution so on the one hand consolidation can assist that with a larger portfolio, but I don’t think that precludes small or mid-sized companies being able to compete by focussing on a system level solution in a targeted space.”

“For markets such as automotive that need multiple sources that is a concern, but that has opened up opportunities for us. In the last 18 months to 2 years customers are actively looking at the supply base and trying to guess what will happen so that it doesn’t impact the business.”