Data center market trends: more power, more efficiency ...and some common sense

20. April 2011 10:45

A rapidly growing industry looks for ways to optimize performance and exploding energy demand

Data centers already account for over 2% of all electricity consumed globally, and that figure is set to increase exponentially over the next few years. A typical data center consumes 15 to 30 times as much power per square foot as a conventional office building, and the energy density is doubling every five years.

It's hard to overstate the level of growth in this field, which only came into being as a distinct discipline in the last 10 years. In 2008—already ancient history in the data center world—IBM posted $38 billion in revenues from their data center business alone.

Two trends to look for…

Higher voltages: servers and other equipment inside the data center already come with "universal" power supplies—moving to 230v (as is common in European appliances) will allow more power to be delivered to the hardware using existing wiring.

DC power: Servers use DC power, so why not just run your data center on DC? A current lack of standards is being addressed with a view toward a global solution for IEC and NEMA based facilities.

There is also a trend toward using industrial control systems to manage a wide range of data center operations from server configuration to HVAC through a single user interface rather than supporting multiple platforms.

Other common sense practices include siting data centers in temperate climates, operating servers at higher temperatures (but still within their acceptable range), hot/cold aisle containment to direct cold air only where it’s needed, and even liquid cooling.


Leavens on New Economic Reality: "We'll never see $2/gal gas again"

20. April 2011 09:47

NEMA Chief Economist Don Leavens gives a nuanced perspective on the economy

Don Leavens, chief economist at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, opened his presentation with a tongue-in-cheek recognition for those willing to undergo a discussion on economics immediately after lunch. The picture he painted of the recovery—or what he noted is now officially an expansion—was not unappetizing, but it did contain a few important footnotes.

US GDP has leveled out, but is not increasing at a rate that we are accustomed to. Compared to other recession/recovery cycles, this one is much deeper, but it also appears that it will last longer in terms of the time required to return to pre-recession levels of spending, employment, etc.

A few other unusual characteristics of this cycle: the recovery is being driven not by residential construction as in past recessions, but by manufacturing. However, with 5 million people still unemployed, it's clear that gains in the sector are coming largely from increases in productivity. Inventory restocking, typically a short-term effect at the beginning of a recovery, has been sustained.

Meanwhile, the rebound in the stock market has restored around half of the $17 trillion in household wealth that was lost.

Going forward, however, we are in for a long road to regain the ground we lost. Leavens noted construction is still languishing, and will likely continue to lag the overall economy particularly on the residential side as there are still a large number of homes in foreclosure that have yet to even be put on the market.

More recently, unrest in the Middle East has produced a prices spike in the oil market that is now forcing consumers to divert more of their retail spending to fill their gas tanks.

"Two dollars a gallon is out of the question," said Leavens. "We will never see that again."

On a brighter note for ABB, the industries the company serves are expected to grow much faster than the overall economy. The automotive sector, for example, is projected to grow by 15% in 2012. Electrical equipment like motors, drives, switchgear and transformers is also on the rise.

Leavens' biggest concern? The risk that the Federal Reserve will keep its foot on the economy's gas pedal too long and set inflationary forces in motion that once started are very difficult to stop.


Town Hall Meeting with Joe Hogan

20. April 2011 09:38

ABB CEO Joe Hogan fielded questions from a variety of customers

Joe Hogan's town hall meeting was packed as ABB customers, technology partners and channel partners all came to engage in a dialog with the CEO. Questions covered a wide range of topics from the economy to cultural differences between US and European companies.

Hogan sees the recent S&P downgrade of US debt as a useful but far from dire warning that the US is overextended and must impose fiscal discipline. Asked about trans-Atlantic business, he remarked on the technical literacy he sees among Europe’s leaders and how that has resulted in greater investment in power grids, for example.

Direct current (DC) came up as an example of a "disruptive technology" (e.g., we may soon see DC buildings if the majority of equipment inside them use DC), but also of ABB's penchant for continuous innovation within very mature technologies. Meanwhile, Hogan also spoke to ABB’s focus on data centers by openly acknowledging that ABB has been late to the party, but noting that the company seeks to first understand customer needs and market characteristics.

"We don’t just come with a product," he said.

Managing talent came up in several customers’ questions that ranged from the challenge of integrating recently acquired Baldor to the need to recruit at every level of the organization and what can be done to not only attract but retain more women within the engineering field.

Regarding the last point, Hogan noted that women are twice as likely to leave their jobs as men, which accounts for a statistic provided by ABB's head of HR Gary Steel: while 25% of the recent engineering graduates working at ABB are women, that percentage drops to 6-7% at the executive level.

Hogan said that companies that are inflexible, for example with regard to work/family issues, run the risk of losing women as they move along their career paths, and he acknowledged that ABB needs to do more to address the issue.

Responding to a related question on employee retention, Hogan said, "managers who just say 'do this' or 'do that'… that doesn't work with highly qualified people. They might put up with it for a while but eventually they’ll leave. You have to listen, to empower people. We are all human."

Finally, asked what he saw as the most important "megatrend" over the next 20 years, Hogan quickly responded with "climate change." But rather than focus on the enormity of the challenge, he pointed out the opportunity that lies in reshaping our economy. While renewable energy sources like wind and solar attract media attention, Hogan noted that efficiency is where the action is.

"If you look at any study of how to bring emissions down, more than 50% comes from efficiency," he said. Given ABB’s focus on efficiency across the energy value chain, the company is well positioned to support the shift to a low-carbon economy.


Electric vehicles 101

19. April 2011 20:00

Bob Feldmaier,Technology Advisor to ABB, and former chief engineer for Chrysler, presented today on eMobility 101, an introduction to electric vehicles and charging systems.

Mr. Feldmaier, who is also a former Chief Engineer at Tesla Motors, pointed out that electric vehicle technology is over 100 years old, and had the largest market share (28%) in 1900. The market moved from electric to gas because electric was quite expensive, more so than gas, and the electrical industry was fragmented. The market for electric vehicles today is being helped by gas that approaching four dollars a gallon in the United States. ABB CEO Joe Hogan mentioned in his keynote that gas is over nine dollars per gallon in Zurich.

Why electric now?

  • California Air Resources Board Zero Emission Vehicle (CARB ZEV) rule
  • Green image/global warning
  • Anti-petroleum/rising prices
  • oil dependence/National security
  • 2017 fuel economy standard /EU CO2

Bob presented several "Myth vs reality" statements in relation to electric vehicles. Myth: Electric vehicles have no emissions. Fact: Emissions are transferred to utilities. Myth: Electric vehicles reduce dependence on foreign oil and therefore improve national security. Fact: Most battery cells are manufactured in Asia, and the largest producer of Lithium is Bolivia, thus increasing dependence on these regions/countries. Myth: Electric vehicles are slow. Fact: In an electric vehicle, there is no transmission, you get instant torque/linear acceleration. The Tesla goes 0-60 in 3.9 seconds

There are four main types of electric vehicles:
  • Mild hybrid - stop/start
  • Full hybrid (hybrid electric vehicle, or HEV) - gas and electric
  • Plug-in hybrid - electrical powered/gas generator
  • Pure electric vehicle (battery electric vehicle, or BEV) - electric powered only: examples are the Tesla, and Nissan Leaf.

Finally, Mr. Feldmaier noted that the electric vehicle market is mostly regulatory-driven right now, not consumer-driven. It will be interesting once more cars are in the market, how people will react.

The electric vehicle market is expected to account for 3-4% of the fleet by 2020 (~9 million vehicles): and around 15% by 2030, (50 million+ vehicles).


Energy efficiency for industry and utilities: a review

19. April 2011 19:38

Leo Abruzzese, Director of Global Forecasting, Economist Intelligence Unit, presented the results of a survey commissioned by ABB that examines how companies can improve their long-term financial growth by managing energy efficiency in their operations.

The frugal manufacturer: a review of utility and industrial energy efficiency

Leo Abruzzese, Director of Global Forecasting, Economist Intelligence Unit, presented the results of a survey commissioned by ABB that examines how companies can improve their long-term financial growth by managing energy efficiency in their operations.
The full survey can be found in 'Trends in global energy efficiency 2011: An analysis of industry and utilities', which also provides a global overview of energy efficiency, and G20 country reports.
Abruzzese discussed the current trends in industrial energy efficiency, including how executives are overcoming obstacles to energy efficiency in their own companies, and the long-term outlook.
In January and February 2011, the Economist Intelligence unit surveyed 348 senior executives and interviewed senior business executives, policy makers, and other experts on their plans to improve energy efficiency in production processes.
Industrial executives say improvements in energy efficiency and the financial returns on these investments will be critical to their businesses in the coming two decades, however, only a minority are taking action to improve efficiency.
The gap between awareness and action is largely caused by lack of information, but despite such obstacles companies are improving their record on energy efficiency and this trend will accelerate especially with the introduction of new regulations.
Much of this improvement will come from existing technologies and process innovations.
For additional information please visit

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