Singapore forms industry partnership to explore vertical green data centres

Country's ICT regulator will work with Huawei and Keppel Data Centres to assess the feasibility of data centre buildings taller than 20 floors, in hopes of resolving energy and land resource challenges.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore wants to assess the possibility of building vertical green buildings to house data centres, hence, solving two common challenges faced globally--energy consumption and land resource.

ICT regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Wednesday said it inked a partnership agreement with Huawei International and Keppel Data Centres to "explore the technical feasibility" of building high-rise green data centres.

Spanning two years including tests and trials, the collaboration would tap IMDA's Green Data Centre Programme, which provided support in research and policies, while Huawei would offer its technological knowledge and technologies. Keppel would construct and operate such facilities.

The initiative aimed to address data centre challenges related to energy and land usage, the companies said in a joint statement.

Citing market research from Forrester and Broadgroup, they said 50 percent of the Southeast Asia's data centre capacity were housed in Singapore, with data centres accounting for 9 percent of the country's total power demand in 2015. This was anticipated to climb to 12 percent by 2020 as demand for services such as cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence increased.

Amidst growing demand for capacity and power, Singapore's tropical climate meant more energy would be consumed to keep data centres cool. A typical 20-megawatt (MW) data centre here would consume the same amount of electricity a day as some 60,000 households. It also would need about one hectare of land, or roughly the space of three to four apartment blocks, and be contained in a six- to eight-floor building.

Due to these challenges, data centres in Singapore were capped at between 20MW and 25MW of power capacity, or about 5,000 server racks.

In comparison, a data centre in Nevada--which was the world's largest--boasted a power capacity of 130MW and stretched across 13 hectares of land area. It also had the capacity to host up to 26,000 server racks.

Furthermore, the best-in-class multi-tenant data centres in Singapore operated at an annual power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.44 at its lowest. In Nevada, a large multi-tenant datacentre building was able to achieve a PUE rating of 1.185, indicating further room for improvement in Singapore.

With energy contributing up to 49 percent of a typical datacentre operating cost, it would be essential to determine how efficiently energy was utilised--across computing, storage, and networking--in such buildings.

It was with these challenges in mind that IMDA, alongside Huawei and Keppel, would be exploring ways to optimise land usage and improve datacentre power efficiency, the companies said.

They noted that the technical feasibility study would look at a possible high-rise building of more than 20 storeys, which could reduce energy use and improve current best-in-class PUE rating of data centres in Singapore by between 10 percent and 20 percent.

It also would explore internal datacentre design elements catering to tropical climates, including server rack design and intelligent controls enabled through a sensor network, as well as new design models that tapped physics to achieve higher cooling efficiencies, for example, through natural ventilation.

IMDA in May last year said it was working with various industry players to create test environments and assess if data centres could operate at optimal levels even in hotter, tropical climates. Such "tropical data centre" concepts would look at whether such facilities could operate efficiently in temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius and ambient humidity at 90 percent or more.

Through its trials, the government agency said it hoped to slash datacentre power consumption by up to 40 percent and reduce carbon emissions.

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