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Validus taps DC power to save energy in data centers

Is power maxed out of your data center? Direct current can lower energy consumption by up to 40 percent, start-up claims.

Can going back to direct current--favored by Thomas Edison--make data centers more modern and energy-efficient?

Start-up Validus on Monday is scheduled to announce the availability of a DC-based electricity distribution system tailored specifically for data centers.

A power distribution model for supplying DC to servers and other data center gear. Validus

The company, which raised $10 million in venture funding last December, has an initial Fortune 50 company customer that's looking to reduce energy consumption at its corporate data center, according to CEO Rudy Kraus.

The idea of using direct current, rather than alternating current, to reduce power consumption has been around for a long time. The telecom industry relies primarily on DC power equipment, Kraus said.

What Validus has done is make power distribution equipment suitable for "high density" data centers--that is, racks of servers or blade servers that consume a lot of electricity (and generate a lot of heat) in a relatively small space, he said.

By going DC, a company can save up to 40 percent on its energy consumption on equipment and cooling, the company says.

Ultimately, the company envisions on-site power generation at data centers, where solar panels, wind mills, or fuel cells supply direct current electricity into buildings with DC wiring.

Its product lineup includes a device that takes power from the grid and distributes it as high-voltage direct current. A distribution board acts as a point for wiring and to connect energy storage. And a power conversion unit steps down the voltage to 48 volts.

Kraus said that data center equipment vendors offer an option for direct current power supplies, which customers could choose for hardware upgrades or new installations. He said he expects to announce some partnerships with equipment companies in the coming months.

The effect of using direct current is to reduce the number of voltage changes and conversions between AC and DC, which makes the overall system more efficient. Kraus said DC power is also more reliable and flexible.

In practice, the lower power consumption may give corporate data center operators the ability to pack in more gear in the same amount of space, he said.

For all its promise, a lack of DC equipment poses barriers to bringing DC power into data centers, according to a study by The Uptime Institute. The research firm last year listed a number of barriers to DC power in the data center, including monitoring equipment, appropriate IT equipment, and DC power-modeling software.