Meeting 5G mobile communications & data centre demands with advanced power management technologies
01 October 2022
Perched atop a 25 metre mast on the edge of the Mojave Desert, a 5G radio transceiver is exposed to searing heat. The smaller & lighter its radio components, the more efficient its electronic systems, the less heat they generate – and the easier it is to keep the system cool & functioning. At a data centre spread out over 1,000 acres, banks of servers execute millions of searches & high demand workloads to feed an ever-expanding information hungry world.
This article was originally featured in the October 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.
As Gary Sapia, Director, Power Technology Development and Andrea Pizzutelli, Senior Director of Product Applications in Data Center Equipment at semiconductor firm specialising in sensing, data conversion, signal processing, RF & power management, Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) explain here, communications technology demands fast transitioning high currents, with very high power component densities that maximise efficiency to rapidly deliver content.
Across the advancing communications world, the most challenging applications for today’s power electronics face the technical hurdles of size, weight and power (SWaP). Almost every application seems to be getting smaller and lighter, while also demanding more power. The need to optimise SWaP is driving the power electronics industry in many new ways. Power management technology is playing a significant role in the innovation of today’s data centre and communication industry.
With sustainability and cost reduction as the goal, technology leadership means higher system efficiency is the target. With more advanced process technologies being used in communications systems comes lower operational voltages and significantly increased currents, which challenge system efficiency. Methodologies beyond pure silicon development need to be considered for these next generation systems. This is where ADI is poised to bring advances.
Improving wireless SWaP & efficiency
On the wireless side, the emphasis is on maximising power density and getting to as small a solution as possible to reduce the overall size of 5G applications, or provide flexibility to incorporate additional capabilities or functionality. Operating in a smaller space translates to functioning more cost effectively and more efficiently.
Possible options and advances in wireless communications technology are endless. ADI’s deep domain knowledge spans across industries and technologies, providing perspectives and solutions to meet these systems’ growing demands. Insights include alternative ways of system packaging to impact size, weight and power that produce a smaller footprint, lower component count and smaller board area impact. Reducing the board’s size has the added value of freeing up space to include new technologies or additional functionality, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and speech recognition.
Eliminating the noise
Electronic technology products require a variety of voltages and currents to operate. Efficient power conversion is key to a well-run system. This means high frequency switching power conversion is needed. A drawback to high frequency switching is the generation of electromagnetic noise interference (EMI) in the RF (radio frequency) range. This EMI interference can disrupt the function of highly sensitive devices, such as the RF transceiver embedded in a 5G network. ADI’s Silent Switcher® series of power converters operate at high frequency, while maximising efficiency — generating the industry’s lowest electromagnetic interference (EMI). This results in a more robust communication link in cellphone network equipment. Lower noise systems require less shielding; and less shielding requires less weight and smaller size.
The 5G radio installation is responsible for delivering cell and internet service worldwide, allowing workers, friends and family to stay in touch. The promise of a globally connected future will undoubtedly have a massive impact on how the world’s population will live, learn, work and play. Fifth generation wireless technology will require significant advances in power electronics to achieve this goal. And, reliability will be critical, as lives may depend upon it.
Many 5G applications are mission critical & always on. Healthcare workers & emergency responders rely on technology for critical communication & incident alert management.
Data centres: the backbone of cloud computing
The need for on-demand data and storage by businesses and consumers is increasing exponentially. To meet these demands, a significant increase in power will be required by data centres. This means efficient power conversion is a critical factor in managing the power demand on our already strained power grid system. Improvements in power management technology are necessary, as some data centres consume as much electricity as a small city of 80,000 people. In fact, according to research by the McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, USA, the amount of electricity consumed by the world’s data centres in 2018 was in the region of 205 terawatt-hours (TWh), or around or 1% of global electricity use.
“ADI brings added value by providing high density, fast response solutions to power the advanced ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits), CPUs (central processing units) and GPUs (graphics processing units) which are needed to process all this data,” said Gary Sapia. Application-specific integrated circuits, custom designed for a particular use, are the biggest power consumers. For the same amount of power, ADI’s solutions help by reducing power conversion losses and lowering heat dissipation.
What’s in a Google search?
When you search a for picture via an online search engine—say “dogs with flat noses,” the search engine goes out, crunches the information and finds options very rapidly from a selection of perhaps two billion choices. This effort requires a special heavy duty processing engine, searching an enormous database that employs artificial intelligence (AI).
All these operations require a network of machines to ramp up very rapidly to perform the task, resulting in a rapid spike in power.
Spiking power means spiking current. It’s similar to pushing the pedal of your car’s accelerator — the fuel injector opens up and sprays gas into the engine, taking you across the finish line. When clicking search, you are essentially pushing the accelerator, fuelling many servers with power. These machines need lots of current to execute your request — and they need it now!
To manage current demand in a very short period of time requires special systems that operate with high efficiency and very high bandwidth. 3 microcseconds is the time it takes for Analog Devices’ power management technology solutions to supply hundreds of amps and let the gateways open, providing a very fast transient response. ADI’s monolithic integration and proprietary coupled inductor technology allows meeting these stringent requirements, while delivering superior efficiency and reducing power consumption.
Size, Weight and Power (SWaP)
Whatever your vantage point, wherever you look, the need to reduce Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) remains a constant for data centres – and for all of the communications industry.
ADI’s system of circuitry and connectivity products includes integrated circuits (ICs) that manage system information control, data collection and translation, high accuracy data sensors, RF radio solutions and high efficiency power conversion. All this packaged as discrete reference designs and in highly integrated application specific module systems solutions, known as µModule®.
Data centres, social media companies, connected device manufacturers, cloud service providers and search engine giants strive to achieve challenging sustainability goals. The five major US tech companies, also known as FAANG (Facebook; Amazon; Apple; Netflix; and Google), all run hyperscale data centres—super-efficient information factories, each with up to 2.5 million servers. For almost a decade, they’ve been streamlining computing processes, switching to renewables and investigating better ways to cool their facilities. These data juggernauts have self-imposed special responsibility to minimise their usage of the planet’s resources.
Minimising the cost of power
With the advent of 5G and the requirement for high data rate systems, the processing power of data centres is growing through the roof. Power can make up more than half of a typical data centre’s costs, with 30% to 40% of that figure attributed to building cooling systems. It therefore makes sound financial and business sense to reduce power consumption, when the bill for electric power and cooling the systems continues to be a significant part of operational expenses.
Inefficient power systems produce heat. Therefore, a more efficient power system will require less energy to operate, less space to devote to cooling systems and less money devoted to fans, heat sinks and other forms of thermal management. Reducing a data centre’s power consumption helps the communications businesses to operate more effectively and sustainably. ADI’s technology can help make FAANG servers more efficient and use less power.
The four vectors of intelligent power management
Communications companies powering extremely high current devices no longer rely on reaching power-saving targets with off-the-shelf components. They leverage breakthrough materials and small modules to provide them with new pathways toward smaller and lighter 5G radios. ADI offers tailored solutions to fit customer requirements, while considering four vectors of intelligent power management to achieve aggressive power-saving goals.
Size matters equally in a sprawling data centre and on the top of a 5G radio mast. Smaller electronics circuits using less metal, plastic and other resources help technology leaders attain their sustainability targets.
Smaller power circuits
Server system form factors are standard throughout the industry. Increasing ASIC throughput performance requires significant increases in power. Given unchanging size constraints, can engineers increase throughput capacity (the processing of information)?
The answer: ADI engineering makes this possible by providing the highest power density solutions in the industry—adding value with advanced integration and proprietary magnetics, delivering more power at greater efficiency and in less space. Essentially, through ADI innovation, more computing capacity can be packed in the same volume.
Innovations in power management follow four vectors
Improvements in circuit and magnetics design, packaging and integration are also shrinking the power system in wireless and wired communications equipment. µModule® technology, pioneered by ADI, offers the industry’s highest power density solutions, as multiple power components, making up a complete power solution, are packaged inside a single, surface-mount substrate. A conventional power circuit that down converts an input bus voltage to system-level voltages may contain as many as 30 separate components. By combining these circuit elements into a single µModule device, equipment manufacturers can shrink the footprint of the power circuit, place it closer to the load, simplify the design and optimise the system performance.
As process technology improves, system voltages get lower and current requirements increase in a nonlinear manner. This dramatic increase in current across the power distribution network (PDN) resistance creates losses that significantly impact system power efficiency and power dissipation in the form of heat. As we well know, power loss increases with the square of the current. Our biggest challenge is to reduce this loss. This is where ADI’s µModule technology meets the challenge head on.
Smart system management
To drive peak operating efficiency, smart system management is required to effectively manage and control the power systems. 5G radio and data centre server systems can benefit from new technology today, which enables operators to incrementally improve efficiency and reliability over time by applying insights gained from operational data. AI or smart power provides data centre operators the ability to monitor power usage and shut down or power up the server racks on-the-fly as needed to conserve energy. Facilities without smart system management may end up with servers being on, unnecessarily, during off peak hours. By using ADI’s smart system management, data centre operators can realise up to 25% power savings while reducing electricity bills.
Safety & reliability
Data centres require enormous amounts of power to operate. Monitoring and controlling this power for failure is critical for safety and reliability. ADI’s intelligent hot swap technology sets the industry standard in providing system monitoring and control to help ensure safe reliable data centre operation.
Hot swap ensures the input current is controlled in a safe manner, preventing component stresses that can cause system failures and component lifetime performance degradation. In the event of a fault, hot swap alerts the system and attempts to limit the condition or perform an immediate shutdown to prevent a catastrophic failure, such as a fire.
Hot swap’s intelligent technology manages voltage and current at the rack mounted board level, enabling the safe installation of a backup board (or line card) without the need to power down the entire rack or system. This allows for the reliable servicing of individual units and minimises service interruptions — saving time and cost.
ADI’s intelligent hot swap solution is an advanced technology that ensures systems operate in an efficient, safe, secure and reliable manner: critical parameters for any high power data centre system.
Solutions for sustainability
Mobile phone and internet data services are how most of the world stays connected and informed. The sheer scale of these technologies has a monumental impact, both environmentally and financially. That’s why innovations in power management technology that have the potential to enhance sustainability with increasing efficiency are so valuable.
Creating sustainable solutions that consume less energy is growing in importance across applications. Power semiconductors are central to that objective. But technology is just a starting point. ADI is committed to making it easier for power electronics system designers to bring safe and reliable data centres and communication innovation to the market – as well as reach the goal of a sustainable future that will benefit the planet and its global population.
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