Much has been said about the energy efficiency of higher three-phase alternating current (ac) voltages as well as direct current (dc) solutions for data centers. Users and designers have become almost religious about their particular power solution. Higher voltages in data centers reduce the amount of copper used in these facilities.

Better economics seem to be driving the increased use of higher voltages. As a consequence, we are seeing greater efficiencies, as multiple power transformations are eliminated. Plus, the rising cost of copper means that reducing its use results in a significant cost saving.

With less transformation and less copper, we are actually getting “greener” as we do more with less. Further, there is significant interest in dc, as yet another efficiency point can be gained, and even less product is needed to be installed.

As is normal in technology circles, we are quick to create new and better solutions yet slow to adopt them. The inability of manufacturers to adjust their product lines to the new solutions always seems to be a major roadblock to more rapid adoption. In this case, the limited types of fixed power supplies that manufacturers use to manage their component inventories seem to be the major obstacle.

For years, the electrical switch-gear industry has standardized draw-out circuit breakers so you could install anything from a 200-amp (A) circuit breaker to an 800-A circuit breaker in the same switch-gear position. The output from the circuit breaker did not matter so long as the input was sufficiently rated and the circuit breakers were mounted on the same carriage. It gave designers flexibility.

HP recently changed the game in server power supplies by substituting a removable power supply for the fixed power supply design. In the future, end-users will have a choice of power supplies. No longer is it one size fits all. If your server is configured with only a few features, why waste power with an oversized power supply? Now you do not have to, as you can order a power supply to meet your specific configuration needs.

This change, however, has greater ramifications for the industry. With power supplies mounted on removable and switchable boards, the industry gains the flexibility to design power supplies that take any type of power input. No longer will the data center have to adjust to the server. If the data center is built with 120/208, 277, or 400 Vac, single-phase, three-phase, or even 380 Vdc, the transformation to the server operating voltage will be done at the server power supply and not multiple times and at multiple locations around the data center.

So HP gets it. They are giving us the flexibility to design data centers with the most efficient voltages available. So what about the rest of the industry? Will Cisco, Dell, IBM, Sun, and all the other product suppliers follow suit? Our data centers are non-homogenous, so if the others do not follow the HP initiative, the use of more efficient power distribution inside the data center will falter. There are those who will say that idea will create too many additional parts to stock. To them, I say that you should be certifying third-party vendors to produce power supplies for your products and sold directly or through your normal sales channels.

There is too much at stake to let the initiative falter, so we are anxious to hear more announcements. Who will be the next product vendor to stand up and serve the client community?