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Greening the Data Centre

last updated 03 November 2017

IDA launches first-of-its-kind Green Data Centre Innovation Programme to raise overall energy efficiency of the Singapore data centre industry.

Energy-guzzling data centres are in for a carbon-friendly makeover. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) is pioneering a comprehensive Green Data Centre Innovation Programme (GDCIP) aimed at raising the overall energy efficiency of the Singapore data centre industry to boost its competitiveness. Under the GDCIP, Singapore will embark on a comprehensive review and assessment of emerging technologies which could significantly improve energy performance. The recommendations are intended to guide the research community, technology companies and the data centre industry in charting their technology directions.

Data centres form an integral portion of the value chain as Singapore transforms itself into a Smart Nation, said IDA’s Assistant Chief Executive (Engineering & Technology Group) Professor Toh Chai Keong (Main photo, third from right). According to a report from data centre consulting practice Boardgroup , Singapore is already the leading data centre hub of Southeast Asia, with nearly 60 per cent of the region’s data centre capacity. The base will continue to grow as Singapore embarks on its journey to become a Smart Nation underpinned by data and analytics.

Against this backdrop of growing demand for data centre services, one of the challenges facing the industry is to rein in rising energy consumption. With Singapore’s tropical climate and high humidity, cooling is a major contributor to the data centres’ already-high energy footprint. According to the Singapore Green Data Centre Technology Roadmap published in 2014, about 37 per cent of the total energy consumed by data centres is used to cool IT equipment. 

Based on IDA's estimates, the 10 largest data centre operators in Singapore account for energy consumption equivalent to that of 130,000 HDB households. An energy efficiency improvement of 20 per cent in the existing stock of commercial data centres in Singapore could yield combined annual savings of over S$34 million.

Under the GDCIP, Singapore will be looking at emerging green technologies and solutions with the aim of achieving a quantum improvement in energy efficiency. Funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), one of the key thrusts of the GDCIP is to direct local R&D efforts in green data centre technologies by providing research funding for key areas of research. By Q3 2015, IDA will issue a Research Grant Call to invite proposals from research organisations to conduct projects around currently theoretical or nascent solutions for green data centre technologies.

One possible area of research involves raising the ambient level of tolerable heat within data centres, allowing the facilities to operate at a higher temperature. Industry studies have demonstrated significant savings for every unit increase in operating temperature. Potential research can be carried out to enable data centres to operate at temperatures and humidity levels far in excess of what is possible today, reducing the need for energy-intensive cooling.

Another area is the automatic smart allocation of computing resources within data centres. Due to the silos of compute, storage and networking present in a data centre, resource utilisation rates are often low and energy efficiency has been found to be poor at low utilisation rates. Potential research can be carried out to enhance utilisation and energy efficiency through programmable data centres that make optimal use of virtualisation, orchestration and automation.

There is also a need for more intelligent systems-level solutions spanning IT and facilities. Most data centre energy efficiency efforts focus on either IT or facility systems in isolation. Potential research can be carried out to combine work in sensors, real-time monitoring and analytics to optimise data centre operations and energy efficiency across facility systems and IT systems.

Another key thrust of the GDCIP is to catalyse the development and adoption of innovative green data centre related products, solutions and services through the Green Data Centre Innovation Call-for-Collaboration (CFC). The CFC, which closes on 26 June 2015, is aimed at developing proof-of-concepts tailored to the tropical environment, which could result in solutions that can be implemented immediately in the data centres.

As part of the GDCIP, IDA is also looking to establish a first-of-its-kind state-of-the-art Green Data Centre Innovation Hub in Singapore. A coordinated and multi-disciplinary approach will be adopted to foster greater collaboration amongst industry members. 

By Q3 2015, IDA will call for a Request for Proposal for the Hub, which will provide an open platform for demonstrating emerging green technologies and innovations, allow experimentation and showcase proof-of-concepts for innovative green data centre technologies. 

Underscoring the importance of a collaborative approach, IDA has also signed Memorandums of Intent (MOIs) with Dell, Hewlett Packard, Huawei and IBM to co-create and prototype potential solutions. The MOIs signal the strong commitment by the companies to enhance development into technologies and solutions in the greening of data centres, and will also enable IDA to tap on their expertise and inputs.

Mr Khai Peng Loh, Managing Director, HP Singapore (Main photo, fourth from left), welcomed the launch of the GDCIP and its aim to improve energy efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of Singapore’s data centre industry. “As a world leader in the design and delivery of data centre infrastructure, services and solutions, HP is well placed to support the objectives of the GDCIP. We look forward to collaborating with the IDA on the development of innovative green data centre solutions,” he said. 

IBM also said it is proud to be lending its experience to the data centre industry. "IBM has led in the field of data centre design and have built markets with industry leading, energy efficient data centre solutions for many years,” said Mr Tim Greisinger, Managing Director, IBM Singapore. “We are very excited to share our technical and operational expertise to the GDCIP." 

Mr Zhou Bin, Chief Executive Officer, Huawei International, said the company was open to exploring green ICT innovative solutions through open collaboration with interested parties on Huawei platforms. This may include green innovation solutions for the Huawei Intelligent Data Centre and IT infrastructure. “As the demand for data centers and cloud computing continue to grow exponentially, Huawei is committed to developing green and sustainable long term ICT solutions that will reduce environmental impact while improving energy and resource efficiency,” he said.

“The GDCIP provides a neutral platform for all stakeholders to contribute to developing innovations that will reduce energy consumption and lower the impact on the planet we share,” said Mr Chang Tsann, member of the Steering Committee for The Green Grid Singapore and Practice Director, Data Centre Consulting Services, Asia Pacific and Japan, Dell. “This will strengthen Singapore’s position as a significant global data centre hub and a future Smart Nation.”

This point was reinforced by Professor Toh. “By working with key companies to explore new research and seek solutions, Singapore will continue to be at the forefront of enabling progressive and positive technological advancements,” he said.