Singapore to run data centre trials in hot climate conditions

Country will create test environments with temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius to assess if data centres, typically maintained in under 25 degrees Celsius, can operate optimally in tropical climates.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore is creating test environments to assess if data centres are able to operate at optimal levels even in hotter, tropical climates.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said Monday it was working with various industry players to evaluate the feasibility of a "tropical data centre", in which environmental temperatures would be tested at up to 38 degrees Celsius and ambient humidity at 90 percent or more.

Typical data centres function in temperatures of between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, and within 50 and 60 percent relative ambient humidity. This need to maintain a cooler environment accounts for a significant portion in a data centre's energy consumption.

While datacentre equipment can operate normally at higher temperatures, industry best practices typically put the recommended range at 18 to 27 degrees Celsius.

According to a 2013 survey by energy management vendor Enlogic Systems, 60 percent of data center administrators in Hong Kong respondents felt it was safe to run data centers at up to 25 degrees C, while 51 percent in Shanghai felt likewise for temperatures of up to 30 degrees C.

IT vendors have been looking at ways to build equipment that would enable data center facilities to be operated at higher temperatures. In 2012, Intel partnered Korean mobile operator KT to trial a technology that would allow data centers to operate at over 38 degrees C. This was expected to help reduce energy costs by 7 percent for every 1 degree C raised. Hitting the target of 38 degrees C would yield annual savings in energy costs of US$7.5 million.

Through its trials, the IDA is hoping to slash datacentre power consumption by up to 40 percent and reduce carbon emissions.

A proof-of-concept tropical data centre would be set up in the third quarter and within a controlled test environment located at a facility owned by Keppel Data Centres. The trial would evaluate, among others, impact on the reliability and performance of datacentre IT equipment when operating in high temperatures and humidity.

"The trial would test how data servers react under various 'live' situations, such as peak surges or transferring of data, and in diverse conditions, such as with no temperature or humidity controls," said IDA. It noted that tests, running 24 by 7, would be conducted on simulated server loads and while large volumes of data were being transferred between networks and storage devices.

Potential trial setups could see the lack of temperature controls or controlled humidity, the industry regulator added.

The new initiative is part of Singapore's Green Data Centre Programme, launched in late-2014, which aims to improve datacentre energy efficiencies. Fujitsu, HPE, Huawei, Intel, Keppel Data Centres, The Green Grid, and Nanyang Technological University are among the various industry partners involved in the trial.

These partners would contribute hardware including server racks and space, monitoring and management software, as well as subject experts to develop test plans. HPE, for instance, would be providing its ProLiant Gen9 and Moonshot servers. No details were available in terms of how much each vendor would commit to the initiative.

Together with IDA, the industry partners would assess trial findings, which would be shared publicly when ready.

IDA's assistant chief executive, Khoong Hock Yun, said: "With Singapore's continued growth as a premium hub for data centres, we want to develop new technologies and standards that allow us to operate advanced data centres in the most energy efficient way in a tropical climate.

"New ideas and approaches, such as raising either the ambient temperature or humidity, will be tested to see if these can greatly increase our energy efficiency, with insignificant impact on the critical datacentre operations," he said.

Citing research from McKinsey, IDA said data centres accounted for 7 percent of Singapore's total energy demand in 2012. This was expected to climb to 12 percent by 2030 due to increasing presence of data centres in the city-state. Several major internet and ICT vendors currently operate data centres here including Google, Alibaba, LinkedIn, and Oracle.

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