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Sustainability: Key to the future of data centres in Singapore

Data centres have become one of the largest and fastest growing consumers of energy and, according to reports, 6.9 percent of all energy consumption in Singapore can be attributed to data centres.

With the increased adoption of cloud-based services, big data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT), this figure is expected to rise and data centres around the world, including those in Singapore are beginning to recognise the need to put in place innovative solutions to reduce their overall environmental impact.

Achieving a viable sustainability strategy starts with the data centre’s platform - how it is designed, constructed and operated. Just as network and storage optimisation are software driven, a software-centric approach is the best way to reveal current system inefficiencies, reduce waste throughout the IT stack, and create a waste-free environment.

Data centres can support their sustainability strategies by taking their waste and diverting them to a more sustainable route, this initiative is referred to as a zero waste data centre.

Propelled by innovation focused on achieving energy efficiency, new technologies and trends are emerging in the booming Singapore data centre market. Here are some environmentally friendly principles and practices that are driving down costs and ushering in needed efficiencies:

Delivering modular data centre technology

The shift from traditional, construction-based data centres to modular, assembly-based data centres has been an important step to greater efficiency. With a modular approach, data centre capacity can be deployed in smaller units and on-demand just as storage compute and networking are delivered.

This efficient design and operation eliminates the need for wasteful over-provisioning of capacity found in traditional environments, reducing an organisation’s carbon footprint as it means using less energy and less water.

Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) has worked with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to formulate the BCA-IDA Green Mark for Data Centres to encourage data centres to implement energy and environmental management systems.

The IMDA has also developed the Green Data Centre Standard to provide guidelines for organisations to establish the policies, systems and processes necessary to improve the energy efficiency of their data centres and to lessen the impact on the environment.

Reducing waste and negative environmental impact

A large portion of a data centre’s costs incurred are derived from energy expenditure, with most of this energy coming from the burning of fossil fuels, the source of the largest environmental impact for those in our industry.

To address the issue of overall sustainability, some companies are investing in alternative, renewable sources of energy to eliminate the use of hazardous or scarce materials altogether, while others have had success with ways to divert waste in more sustainable pathways.

Google, which just opened its second data centre in Singapore, recently announced that it is making a new commitment to achieving zero waste to landfill from its data centre operations. As waste streams are in fluctuation all the time, understanding waste needs is an evolving process and also critical to mission success.

Replacing traditional cooling techniques

With the cooling process accounting for 40% of the electricity consumed in data centres today, there is unprecedented demand for efficient cooling solutions that can offer adequate cooling at a low cost with minimal power consumption.

Due to the tropical climate, the need for sustainability is especially great in Singapore where traditional renewable energy options such as hydroelectricity, solar, and wind power are not as viable.

Some data centre operators even use NEWater (reclaimed water) to cool their data centres. On a national level, the Singapore government is developing the world’s first tropical data centre as part of its ‘Smart Nation’ initiative to cut back on existing energy requirements for running a data centre.

Data centre design and solutions are constantly evolving to meet the fast-changing and growing needs of customers. Whether it is to improve energy efficiency, or invest in alternative sources to reduce environmental impact, data centres should track sustainability focused data metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts.

Operating systems such as data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) software track key metrics associated with the amount of energy consumed by the data centre, allowing them to achieve energy efficiency and cost savings in the mid to long term. These tools also offer visibility and control over asset, capacity, and workflow management which can optimise the entire performance of data centres. 

Article by Darren Webb, managing director, IO Singapore and Southeast Asia

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