Eaton Bullish On Lithium-ion In The Data Center, Tentative On DCIM Market

Data center power management technology developer Eaton has unveiled plans to start moving the battery technology in its UPS line from a focus on lead-acid to lithium-ion as a way to improve UPS reliability and total cost of ownership.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based Power Quality Division of Eaton also introduced a new power distribution unit, or PDU, and is also reluctantly entering the data center infrastructure management, or Comarket with a new software application.

The new product introductions were unveiled to attendees of its Eaton Partner Summit, held this week in Atlanta.

[Related: Q&A: Eaton's Dell Misenheimer On Moving Forward In A Sea Of Data Center Power Changes]

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Eaton is preparing to introduce 1U and 3U rackmount UPSs featuring lithium-ion batteries shortly, said Jeff Kennedy, product manager for Eaton's 3-series and 5-series UPS lines.

Lithium-ion offers a lower refresh time, a longer battery life, lower weight, and longer shelf life than the traditional lead-acid batteries currently used in UPSs, Kennedy said.

For the company's coming 1U model, the new lithium-ion battery can recharge from 0 percent to 90 percent of capacity in about four hours compared to up to 48 hours for lead-acid batteries, he said. The Li-ion batteries have a lifespan of eight years, compared to lead-acid's three to four years, and a warranty of five years compared to lead-acid's three years.

Eaton has not yet set the cost of the Li-ion batteries, but Kennedy said he expects them to cost about twice that of lead-acid batteries, which would put them in the $1,000 to $1,200 range. However, he said, Li-ion technology is cheaper over time, given that within 10 years, the customer will have to replace the lead-acid batteries at least once.

Lithium-ion batteries also weigh about 11 pounds, compared to 19 pounds for lead-acid batteries, Kennedy said. "That's only an 8-pound difference," he said. "But what if you put 42 of them in a rack?"

The idea of lithium-ion batteries quickly replacing lead-acid batteries is very appealing, said Jim Stoof, sales manager at R.M. Stoof & Associates, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based solution provider and Eaton power specialist.

For many customers, UPS get put in data closets and forgotten, Stoof told CRN. "People put them in data closets and forget they have batteries," he said. "They're used everywhere. And while they might beep when the battery is dead, no one can hear the beep."

Li-ion batteries are probably cheaper in the long-term than lead-acid batteries, Stoof said. "But more important is the time saved," he said. "Longer battery life is critical."

Eaton also unveiled a new addition to its software line, called VCOM, or Visual Capacity Optimization Manager, which is the company's first entry into the DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) market, said Eaton Vice President Herve Tardy.

Eaton has not worked in the DCIM market in the past, in large part because it is a market that has not developed as expected, Tardy said.

Citing data from analyst firm Gartner, Tardy said that in 2009, the DCIM market had been expected to reach about $25 billion by 2015. The reality is that, in 2017, the DCIM market might reach only $250 million because of the complexity of the software and the high cost of maintenance.

"The solution is too complex," he said. "So we decided not to play."

However, Eaton is determined to rebrand itself as a software and services vendor, and so it introduced VCOM, which can manage all the devices in the data center the same as competing VCOM offerings. "Our strategy is an integrated suite of software to fit all use cases," he said.

Eaton does not expect to be a leader in the DCIM market, and does not plan any full-court press for customers. "If customers ask for it, we will provide it," he said.

Other than VCOM, other parts of Eaton's software offerings include VPM, or Visual Power Manager, which monitors and manages rack PDUs, or power distribution units; IPM, or Intelligent Power Manager, which manages data center power devices; and PredictPulse, which provides remote monitoring and management with predictive analytics.

Eaton plans to launch a new power distribution unit to update the company's ePDU line, said Jessica Biggerstaff, product manager of Eaton's electrical sector. The new model, slated to ship by year-end, comes with 11 color options instead of the black-only current G3 model and fits 42 power outlets in 42U vs. the G3's maximum of 24. The new model will include a modular design and a new alternating phases capability for easier load balancing, she said.