Why are more and more data centers relying on GaN transistors for server power? | Heisener Electronics
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Why are more and more data centers relying on GaN transistors for server power?

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Post Date: 2024-04-26, Broadcom Limited

Data center professionals are increasingly choosing gallium nitride (GaN) transistors over traditional silicon transistors. One of the key reasons is that these components fundamentally change energy management. Although data centers have become very important in today's highly digitized society, they have a bad reputation for using a lot of energy. This reality conflicts with efforts to make more sustainable choices to protect the planet's future.

However, there is evidence that GaN transistors can meet the needs of modern and future data centers while making advances in energy use. Gallium nitride transistors have brought similar gains elsewhere. Putting them into electric vehicles allows for smaller, more efficient power electronics that allow for faster charging capabilities. Telecommunications professionals are also using GaN transistors to improve synchronous data transfer between 5G infrastructures.

As a result, data center decision makers are not alone in choosing these components. However, they have certain advantages that make them particularly suited to the needs of data centers.

The need to comply with regulations

Many lawmakers and similar authorities have passed requirements for data center equipment to be more sustainable in its   functionality. For example,   the European Union’s Ecodesign Directive — in effect since 2019 — established minimum energy efficiency requirements  for  power supply units and active servers. Federal agencies in the U.S. must use ENERGY STAR-labeled servers.

GaN transistors offer numerous energy-saving benefits over conventional transistors. That doesn’t mean all of them meet   the regulations mentioned above and others. However,   there’s a good chance many will. As people explore the best ways to comply with recent regulatory requirements,   they often recognize the need to be open to new technologies — including GaN transistors.

Some GaN components offer power supply efficiencies greater than 94% — a significant improvement over silicon-based   ones. That statistic is compelling enough for decision-makers to at least strongly consider relying on GaN transistors   to power their servers. Doing so could get them in compliance while allowing them to boost the bottom line.

People can also consider gradually switching to GaN transistors after the benefits become apparent. They could purchase   one or a few of those components,   then carefully measure their performance with conventional transistors. That approach can make users feel more  confident  about making data center-related changes. Plus, if necessary,   they can use that data to get executive buy-in for the new options. 

The desire for improved resilience

Maintaining profitability in a data center requires providers to guarantee high uptime rates for customers. Many people run mission-critical systems, apps, and websites with data center resources. They’ll take their business elsewhere if data center representatives can’t assure them things will keep running smoothly.

However, GaN transistors play an important role in uptime by keeping data centers cooler. Since silicon options are comparatively less efficient, they require high-tech cooling technologies to keep equipment running at a safe operating temperature.

Many data centers often give off far too much excess heat as energy. People have investigated eco-friendly ways to use it, such as relying on the warmth to power nearby cities. Amazon is one of the well-known brands using data center heat that way. However, the ideal solution is to make data centers produce less heat in the first place.

GaN transistors support that aim. In addition to making data centers more sustainable, less heat production reduces these facilities’ risk of operating failures. Statistics indicate that average data center outages cost more than $7,900 per minute. There's no single cause of those events. Some occur due to bad batteries, while others happen because of poor equipment upkeep. Events wholly outside a data center operator’s control — such as natural disasters — can also result in outages.

However, when components get too hot, the excessive temperature often shortens their life spans. People still need to stay on top of maintenance in other ways. Swapping silicon transistors for GaN ones is a proactive measure that could keep data centers operating without preventable problems.

The push to remain profitable

Data centers are energy-intensive facilities. People familiar with the matter also believe data centers will hold growing amounts of data because individuals and businesses do many activities to produce it. Decision-makers remain acutely aware of the challenges in keeping data centers profitable when so much energy is required to run them. One option is to explore energy-efficient choices while increasing power density simultaneously. GaN transistors can achieve both of those goals.

One investigation found that using GaN components for 10 data center racks would result in a $3 million profit for a facility. GaN transistors substantially increase data center power density, allowing facilities to perform better from the equipment. Additionally, GaN components enable using power supply units up to three times smaller than those made from silicon. Then, designers can fit more power and memory per server. That’s notable since many applications — such as those using machine learning — require increasingly powerful computing capabilities.

When data center operators can prove they have the equipment to attract clients with high demands, it’ll be easier to maintain consistent profitability and show they’re future-proof. Consider the example of a 30-server, 10-power supply unit rack with silicon components. Upgrading it with GaN transistors could turn it into a 34-server, six-power supply unit rack.  Many of the newest data centers are much bigger than those built a decade ago. However, pursuing profitable improvements by moving into bigger facilities isn’t always immediately feasible. It takes time and a large labor force to build new data centers. Those requirements include finding a suitable site and getting the appropriate permission to start building. When using a new, larger data center is not an option for retaining profitability, switching to GaN components can be a practical short to midterm solution.

GaN transistors: a great fit for data centers

Today’s data center managers must continually look for realistic ways to make their facilities more competitive and eco-friendly. There’s no single way to do that and guarantee success. However, as these examples show, people have plenty of reasons to explore possibilities associated with GaN transistors.

As researchers do more work in this area, other benefits will become evident, too. For example, in 2022, a North Carolina State University team controlled the doping of gallium nitride to create new, high-powered electronic devices. Experiments showed that the technique reduced energy losses in power electronics while allowing the creation of more-compact power conversion systems. Although the researchers’ focus spanned beyond data centers, it’s easy to see how GaN-related improvements could also positively impact them.
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