Digital Power Forum Wrap Up

September 21, 2006 by Jeff Shepard

"We can see the handwriting on the wall," according to one of the companies attending the third annual Digital Power Forum (DPF '06), held in Richardson, Texas, earlier this week. This year's Forum confirmed that digital power management and control is already established and could become a larger portion of the power supply market sooner than expected.

Over 300 delegates representing original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), power converter companies and semiconductor makers contributed to the Forum, making it the only event to focus on a rapidly emerging technology that is predicted to capture up to 30% of the overall power supply market in the next few years. This year's DPF expanded to include both a "Power Track" and a "Data Center Track" – highlighting the importance of digital power from loop control to facilities management. OEMs such as Google, AMD, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Cisco, Sun, Fujitsu and Samsung contributed strongly to the presentations and discussion.

Along with the sessions, DPF '06 included a Roundtable discussion and a "Breakfast with Darnell" presentation. The Roundtable featured speakers from Delta Electronics, Zilker Labs, Texas Instruments, Analog Devices, Coldwatt and Primarion, and was moderated by the financial analyst firm, C.E. Unterberg, Towbin. The topic was, "When Will the Switchover to Digital Take Place?" All of the panelists agreed that the switchover was already occurring, with some companies saying that 25-30% market penetration would signal successful commercial adoption. This is expected "very soon." The trend is toward a "really tight coupling between the OEMs and the suppliers." According to the Roundtable speakers, analog and digital solutions will continue to co-exist, with development tools being critical to the success of digital implementation. Functionality, not process, will be important. A representative from Hewlett-Packard said that risk reduction, ease of use and lower cost were necessary. He also said that cost parity with analog was not enough; digital had to be better than analog in order to get widely used. This led to a discussion of, "where can digital do things that analog can't?" Designers should not be just duplicating analog functions in the control loop.

"Breakfast with Darnell" has become a popular feature of the Digital Power Forum. It is a small, first-come, first-serve session with a brief presentation by a Darnell Group analyst. The presentation is designed to stimulate discussion on a focused, controversial issue. This year's topic was "Digital Power: Who's in the Lead?" and was based on the results of a survey included in Darnell Group's Emerging Markets in Digital Power Electronics report.

The survey was designed to measure perception of who are the current leading power supply and semiconductor companies. Based on the responses, Delta Electronics emerged as "best in class" on four out of eight features/functions/attributes: Price, Pure Digital Solution, Quality, and Support. This was an unexpected result and might be due to Delta's aggressive business model, or possibly the fact that they do not "officially" side with any industry group, such as PMBus or the Z-Alliance.

Although Delta is perceived as the leader now, the competitive landscape is likely to change over the next few years. Newer companies like Powervation and CHiL Semiconductor are coming on the scene, with more expected as digital makes commercial strides.

Delegates to DPF '06 found the quality of attendees to be exceptional, and many indicated that "access to their customers" (including a strong presence from system makers) was key to their satisfaction with the conference. Many commented on the networking opportunities in the exhibit hall, where about a dozen companies displayed new products and demos. The consensus was that next year's Digital Power Forum (in San Francisco, California) would be even better.