NTT Com's data center goes lean and green

Japanese company customizes Singapore data center to be power and cost efficient, as well as offer customers the server capacity they are asking for.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

NTT Communications had plenty on its mind when designing and building its Singapore data center, but the main considerations were toward keeping energy costs down and being green while ensuring that space was maximized to house the number of servers it had planned to deploy.

According to Michael Goh, senior manager for data center and cloud services at NTT Singapore's global business division, the company opened the facility in Serangoon last April and is one of the few data centers the Japanese company has outside of its local market. The company has two other purpose-built data centers in Malaysia and Hong Kong in Asia-Pacific, he added.

Case Study: NTT Singapore

What: NTT Com wanted a data center that is energy-efficient and green, while also being able to offer customers the IT capabilities they require.

Reasons: Power bills are a huge operation cost of data centers, and the best way to lower the cost is to make the building energy-efficient.

Customers are also increasingly looking for higher power density server racks, so the data center needed to address this need.

Cost: US$150 million

Challenges: Speed was of the essence as the company had signed up several customers before the building was built. This resulted in the facility being built in a year, instead of the usual two.

Results: An estimated 10 percent to 15 percent savings in the monthly electricity bill, thus allowing NTT Com to offer more price-competitive services to customers. 

The Serangoon data center cost US$150 million to build, and the 15,000-square-meter building has a usable data center space of 5,000 square meters. This includes the eight server room modules housing a total of 2,500 racks, Goh said in a recent interview with ZDNet Asia.

Since it opened, the Singapore data center has been serving some 20 new customers--most of which are multinational companies--and running at 50 percent of its optimal server capacity. Full capacity is expected by 2015 to 2016, he added.

Customized for customers
The executive said NTT Com considered having a Singapore data center since 2008 and 2009, although actual planning and design started in 2010. Given that it was a greenfield project, Goh said the company was able to factor in several aspects such as energy conservation, keeping down operational expenses, and meeting customers' needs.

One example of meeting customers' needs included having higher power density server racks. "From studying market trends, we foresee customers needing racks with higher power density [sooner or later], so we designed our data center to cater to this requirement," Goh said.

The company also made efforts to maximize the gross floor area (GFA) so as to be able to allocate more server space for its customers. This meant the pillars and air-conditioning units were designed to be built outside server rooms, so customers get 100 percent of the area they pay for, he explained.

Going green reaps benefits
Furthermore, it wanted to design the facility with a green concept and suit Singapore's tropical climate and business environment, he noted. In an environment which is always hot, this makes the overall temperature of a building rise and forces the air-conditioning units to work harder. This results in larger power bills over time.

"Don't underestimate the power bill, it is a huge operation cost of data centers," he stated.

Since the "best way" to reduce power consumption is to reduce the entire building's solar gain, minimizing direct sun exposure on surfaces was key. As such, the data center's rectangular-shaped design meant the building's shorter sides faced east and west, while the longer ones faced north and south, thus minimizing the surface area to direct sunlight, Goh explained.

The same concept was applied to the rooftop, especially since top floors typically register higher temperatures despite better airflow, he said. Instead of leaving the concrete surface on the rooftop bare, an elevated metal mesh platform was installed above it to place various M&E (mechanical and electrical) equipment, such as cooling towers, power generators and solar panels. NTT Com also placed grass patches covering the areas of the metal mesh platform that were empty.

These tweaks meant sunrays hit the "big items" and grass, not the concrete floor underneath it, which would then absorb heat, he said.

Rooftop at NTT Singapore's Serangoon data center (Credit: NTT Singapore)

Altogether, green savings make up an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent savings in the company's monthly electricity bill, according to Goh.

NTT Com's Singapore data center subsequently received the Green Mark Platinum Award from the Building & Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore, and Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the company revealed.

Goh added: "Whatever money we spend, we try to recover that from a business perspective. This goes for any business. But ROI (returns on investment) is just one aspect; there is also social responsibility. Being sustainable is important for us. And if a customer [joins us], they can be very sure it's a green building and we're doing our best to protect the environment."

Besides these two considerations, NTT Com was pressed for time to get the data center up and running. The company had clinched several deals before the construction was complete and it needed the facility to ensure it upheld its end of the deal, Goh shared.

In the end, the data center was built in a year, which is shorter than the typical building duration of 1.5 to 2 years, he added.

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