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Simply stated, cloud refers to any service offered over the internet. The concept behind cloud computing is to create a ubiquitous infrastructure to enable quick, scalable access to data and information.
Figure 1: AC-mains to server backplane block diagram
While most define and interpret the cloud to be a large public network, there are also private cloud services available offering secure proprietary networks with limited access and permissions. Most consumers interact with the cloud through front end access. The front end of the cloud includes software, applications, GUIs and storage. To support the vast options of front end user interfaces, the cloud requires a significant back end infrastructure including power supplies, servers, data storage and computers. With the ever increasing demands of front cloud services, the back end systems must also be scalable and capable of expansion.
The global datacenter market is forecasting growth of 6.4% CAGR from $19.1B in 2020 to $26.1B by 2025.1 With the increasing growth in cloud computing demands comes the increasing demand on processing power. The estimated worldwide power consumed by data centers in 2018 was 205 Terawatt-hours, or 205,000,000,000,000 W-hr.2 Such significant demands in power consumption lend to the prioritization of efficiency and reliability.
Cloud Power Conversion
Most data center racks are supplied by an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) rated to 220V with power ratings approaching 100kW per rack. Considering most core processors have voltage ratings under 2V, the high voltage levels need to be converted and distributed. Additionally, the higher the power rating indicates significant amounts of current that need to be rerouted with utmost efficiency to minimize power losses and heat. Most server racks have a 48V backplane power supply. This is the primary supply into each server in the rack, also referred to as server blades. 48V historically has been the standard power supply in telecom and network infrastructure. The reason for selecting 48V is that it is generally considered to be the highest voltage that is not dangerous to humans. Typically, equipment requiring voltage levels over 48V must be double insulated and have additional, stringent safety requirements. In addition, converting over 48V requires ground isolation to protect equipment as well as humans operating them.
48V vs 12V
There have been a lot of discussions and experimentation around the 48V server power. Classically, the internal power supply in most computer and server platforms has been 12V. This was a legacy requirement that stemmed from older silicon technologies as well as hard disc drives for non-volatile storage, cooling fans and other components in the compute platform. As CPU power consumption has dramatically increased with each successive generation of processor, the high CPU current load results in higher input 12V current. This higher current demand in turn requires thicker cables or bus bars to distribute 12V and the higher 12V current leads to larger distribution losses. Power losses also create heat which is the enemy of high density computing as it leads to shorter device lifetimes and creates system vulnerabilities. One way to combat this power loss is to bring the 48V rack supply into the server itself and introduce dedicated 48V power converters.
48V power supply can deliver the same power to a load with one quarter of the current; thus reducing power loss in the conduction path by a factor of 16. This impressive improvement to system efficiency comes with some challenges. 12V power solutions have been optimized over many generations and are extremely efficient. The higher voltage power supply requires a larger step-down voltage to reach CPU core voltages which can lead to a less efficient power conversion stage. Higher voltage silicon technologies are also required and tend to have higher resistance per unit-area for MOSFET architectures which will also increase system cost. These system challenges have lead to innovation and advanced architectures being implemented on a trial basis. One of the most promising new power conversion technologies is the switched tank capacitor (STC) converter – figure-2. These converters exhibit extremely high efficiency and, in most cases, smaller circuit area. Depending on the designer and overall system architecture, both single and multi-stage conversion solutions have proven successful. The specific intermediate voltage will vary by silicon vendor and is typically chosen based on their specific technologies. The most efficient and widely chosen overall solutions have been 48V to 12V to 1V to power the CPU core. This approach leverages both mature solutions and moderates the net step-down voltage to maximize total system efficiency – figure 3)
Figure-2: Switched Tank Capacitor Converter
Figure-3: Two-Stage 48V to 1V Converter
Core CPU power
High current DC-DC power converters are typically multi-phase topologies. Each phase is typically comprised of two MOSFETs (high-side and low-side half bridge configuration) and an inductor. The high-side and low-side MOSFETs are packaged together to increase power density and is commonly referred to as a power-stage. Multiple phases work together to deliver required output load, and are controller by an intelligent multiphase controller. The switching of each phase must be staggered and carefully controlled to optimize load regulation, ripple, transient response and noise emissions, both radiated and conducted. The number of phases and the current in each one of those power stages is carefully tuned for a specific generation of CPU. The market has observed a rapid increase in the number of phases required as well as higher current density in each power stage. The most advanced multi-phase converters employ up to 16 phases with total delivered power easily exceeding 1000W – figure 4.
Figure-4: Simplified 16 Phase 1V CPU Power Supply
Smart Power Stages
A byproduct of the extreme power density required by advanced CPU’s is the need for extremely high efficiency and tight load regulations. Advanced deep sub-micron silicon technologies employed in CPU/ASIC demand tight voltage tolerances in order to work properly. This drives the need for power stages to not only deliver low power losses, but also “smart” features including current, temperature, and fault reporting. By reporting accurate phase current and temperature to the multiphase controller, the overall power supply is able to deliver the required voltage regulation to the CPU. Advancements in MOSFET technology also play a key role in improving the efficiency in each generation of power stages. Figure 5 shows onsemi’s efficiency improvement. The design needs to balance cost, peak efficiency and maximum load efficiency for the best overall design.
Figure-5: Efficiency Comparison of Different Smart Power Stages
The cloud market segment will continue to evolve and expand as consumers expect more and more data at their fingertips. To keep up with these demands, the technology sectors supporting the cloud infrastructure must continue to innovate and anticipate the market needs. The entire cloud power tree including multi-phase controllers, smart power stages and POLs must be meticulously designed and manufactured to optimize efficiency and reliability to support this infrastructure. onsemi provides industry leading solutions for the entire power tree servicing every node from 48V down to 1V.