While 3-phase power allows utilities to deliver more power over smaller, less expensive wires, there are more compelling reasons for using three-phase in the data center—specifically 3-phase Wye.
To understand electric power in the data center, you need to first understand single- and 3-phase power distribution. Most homes are wired with single-phase that uses one ac voltage delivered over two hot wires and one neutral wire. The voltage across the two hot wires measures 240VAC (for your oven or dryer) and across any hot to neutral measures 120VAC (for everything else).
Most commercial businesses are wired with 3-phase that consists of three ac voltages separated from each other by 120 electrical degrees, or by a third of a cycle. These systems deliver power over three hot wires where the voltage across any two hot wires measures 208VAC.
Another way to look at 3-phase power is as a combination of three single-phase circuits that deliver power in a way that it never falls to zero, meaning that the load is the same at any instant (the concept is easy to grasp when you look at the waveform).
Because the load is constant, 3-phase power is ideal for motors—it eliminates the need for starting capacitors. It also allows for smaller wires (i.e., less copper) and lower voltages for the same power transmission as single-phase, making it less expensive and safer.
There are two types of circuits used to maintain equal load across the three hot wires in a 3-phase system—Delta and Wye. The Delta configuration has the three phases connected like a triangle, whereas the Wye (or “star”) configuration has all three loads connected at a single neutral point.
Delta systems have four wires—three hot and one ground. Wye systems have five wires—three hot, one neutral and one ground. While both Delta and Wye systems measure 208VAC between any two hot wires, Wye systems also measure 120VAC between any hot wire and neutral. In other words, it’s the neutral wire of the Wye system that allows for providing two different voltages and powering both 3-phase and single-phase devices in the data center.
That’s not to say that Delta doesn’t have its place—we mainly see Delta used for any large motors or heaters that don’t need a neutral. Delta is also used in power transmission because it’s expensive to run a fourth neutral wire all those miles. That’s why distribution transformers are wired as Delta-Wye. This creates the neutral that allows the transformer to deliver power for single-phase loads.Delta-wired devices can also be fed from a Wye source by simply omitting the neutral. That means that in a data center, a Delta power distribution unit (PDU) can be used when there is only a need for 208VAC, while Wye PDUs are used when there is a need for both 120VAC and 208VAC.
Many of today’s larger blade servers only accept 208VAC because their power requirements can’t be met with 120VAC. However, most data centers still need the flexibility of also being able to power 120VAC devices. So now you know why 3-phase Wye power distribution is the best option for today’s data center.
Belden’s wide range of three-phase rack-mounted and vertical PDUs available in both Delta and Wye configurations to accommodate a broad range of electrical characteristics, outlet requirements, plug and receptacle styles, and remote monitoring and management.
Mike Salvador is a 28-year industry veteran, living the challenge of operating efficient data centers, optimizing the performance of network devices and delivering highly available, highly agile, low-risk data centers. Mike served as Belden’s technical solutions manager from 2012 to 2015.