Data centres are integral to everyday life in the 21st century. With an increasingly interconnected world and diminishing international barriers, our reliance on this infrastructure grows as we continually innovate to build improved data centres.
This is especially the case in Asia-Pacific (APAC), where the data centre boom shows no sign of decelerating due to rising data usage and storage demand. This growth is driven by contributing factors such as growing smartphone penetration, digital transformation, e-commerce expansion, emerging technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) adoption, and the requirement for specific data to be stored within national borders.
Compared to other parts of the world, the data centre market in APAC has been expanding rapidly over the past five years, despite being a relatively new market. Research by Savills reveals the APAC data centre transaction volume soared to US$5.9 billion, up 32% year-on-year from 2022.
The potent impact of data centre policies in the APAC region plays a significant role in propelling the industry’s swift growth. Governments have recognised data centres as critical infrastructure for digital operations, implementing favourable policies to attract investments and facilitate advancements such as local green data centre roadmaps and the implementation of streamlined regulations.
Additionally, several countries in APAC have prioritised improving connectivity and power supply reliability, which are crucial for efficient data centre operations. These proactive measures have fostered a favourable business environment, instilling confidence among investors, leading to a significant increase in data centre construction and expansion.
Emerging markets in APAC
Data centre operators such as Equinix, STT, and China Telecom are striving to achieve substantial scale across APAC. This region is expected to be a significant leader in 5G demand, according to a Cushman & Wakefield APAC data centre report in 2022.
Each market has unique offerings. For instance, Singapore is often seen as the industry epicentre in APAC for external companies, while Hong Kong serves as a hub for capital raises or company formation. However, a key concern regarding data centre deployment remains.
Energy consumption and sustainability
One primary consideration is energy consumption. These energy-intensive facilities continue to challenge businesses and increasingly, national sustainability goals. In response, Singapore has established a set of commitments. Companies looking to set up data centres in Singapore are required to adhere to new criteria, which include following sustainability standards, using sustainable energy, and adopting more efficient cooling methods. These initiatives highlight the country’s proactive approach towards reducing carbon emissions.
It is well-known that data centres are energy-intensive infrastructure, estimated to consume 1-3% of the world’s total electricity supply. As operators work diligently to address this by modifying components such as servers, storage systems, and networking equipment, we must not overlook more subtle factors.
For example, when data centre operators upgrade or replace their older equipment with greener options, are they considering the environmental needs of today, or those of the next five, ten, fifteen years ahead? A long-term perspective in the design of next-generation data centres will help reduce the frequency of equipment upgrading and replacement, ultimately leading to less waste.
Another key consideration often neglected is the manufacturing process of data centre equipment. While the equipment will enable operators to lower their emissions, what was the production process like? Was it energy-efficient and did it minimise waste? Data centre operators need to evaluate whether their manufacturers use renewable energy sources to produce components and if their quality control process is up to standard.
The fast-paced, ever-evolving world we inhabit demands that data centres adapt swiftly to sudden changes. Thus, flexibility is a key attribute necessary for current and future data centres. Presently, discussions surrounding flexibility often concentrate on space and resource utilisation.
The importance of flexibility in installation grows in parallel with the accelerating pace of digitalisation. One advantage is shorter lead times for building next-generation data centres, enabling businesses to initiate their operations promptly. Flexibility in installation can be realised through plug-and-play solutions and enhanced by brand-agnostic components. For example, containerised data centres offer a modular, and therefore scalable and flexible solution for areas undergoing rapid digitalisation.
Prefabricated data centre solutions also lead to better safety outcomes for facility staff. When data centres are built using prefabricated components off-site, the need for extensive construction work at the facility location reduces. This means facility staff are exposed to fewer safety risks and hazards typically associated with construction sites, such as working at heights, handling heavy equipment, or working in confined spaces.
In essence, apart from optimising current operations while ensuring sustainability, operators need to consider data centres from end to end – from the production of components, through to their installation and operation. Each of these phases presents an opportunity to implement and advance sustainability practices, and it is crucial that none are overlooked.
Future-proof technologies to empower the world
Humanity’s relationship with data centres, as with various technologies, is complex. On one hand, they play a crucial role in helping us advance societies; on the other, these advancements have led to significant environmental consequences. This is why next-generation data centres aim to amplify the benefits they bring while mitigating potential risks and negative impacts.
The transition towards next-generation data centres must consider factors such as the manufacturing process of components, their longevity in a changing environment, energy usage, operational effectiveness and efficiency, and flexibility. This balancing act is challenging, but data centres have already undergone multiple transformations since their inception in the mid-20th century – and they will continue to do so, to meet humankind’s ever-changing needs.