Singapore’s journey towards energy efficient data centres


2 November 2015
Ronald Schepers of Schneider Electric

Singapore has ambitious plans to become the world’s first Smart Nation through the harnessing of the latest developments in information and communication technology (ICT) to better support living standards and her many communities. The various policies and infrastructure initiatives behind Smart Nation will undoubtedly transform the way people live, work and play.

The evolution of the Smart Nation is driven by the exponential growth of digital data – businesses and governments are fully aware of the potential that exists within these data.  For economies to thrive and businesses to flourish, they need data centres that are capable of processing, storing and transmitting vast amounts of data and it is crucial for both governments and businesses to understand how data centres impact a nation’s energy consumption.

With growing internet connectivity, Singapore’s data centre industry is expected to continue to experience strong growth. The country has become a premier data centre hub in Asia as a result of a robust intellectual property regime and strong trade connections to some of the most important markets in the world. On-going initiatives such as the Digital Harbour, will set the stage for Singapore’s continued growth as a data centre hub driven by trends such as big data, data analytics and the Internet of Things.

It is important for data centre operators in Singapore to understand how the cooling and power requirements of their facilities can be an energy draining burden. The energy guzzling ways of data centres here may put a dent in the nation’s reputation as a global data centre hub and affect Singapore’s vision of becoming a Smart Nation. From a business perspective, rising energy costs are also challenging data centre operators as they struggle to keep operation costs down while trying to meet the growing demands of customers who operate in the age of the Internet of Things.

In keeping with Singapore’s transformation into a Smart Nation, the government owns multiple large and complex data centres to manage and process data as well as deliver public services to citizens and businesses.  This makes the public sector a perfect candidate for data centre transformation and for it to take a lead in Singapore’s “Green Data Centre (R)Evolution”.

However, potential challenges remain as the public sector seeks to operate more efficient data centres:

  • Data centres located in sites that are unsuitable for operating a modern energy efficient data centre
  • Insufficient information and experience to assess and select a competent consultant and contractor to design and build the data centre facilities
  • Lack of a clear data centre strategy and roadmap plan
  • The prospect of “downtime” when upgrading existing data centre facilities
  • Legacy design of existing data centre facilities impacting the ability to deploy IT equipment with high power and cooling demand, the ability to monitor and track energy usage and the implementation of effective air management and energy efficiency practices
  • A business mind-set without energy efficiency as one of its priorities

The government has taken active steps to address these challenges, specifically in the area of energy efficiency where energy management and performance standards were introduced in 2010 and 2013. Singapore was the first country in Asia to put in place two data centre energy efficiency standards, namely, SS564 Green Data Centre Standard and BCA Greenmark for Data Centres. The former was developed by the Singapore Infocomm Development Agency (IDA) in partnership with the IT Standards Committee (ITSC) under SPRING Singapore while the latter was developed by the Building Controls Authority (BCA) in partnership with the National Environment Agency (NEA) and IDA.

The two standards look at how data centre operators can manage a set of industry recommended practices and performance metrics covering data centre energy management systems and data centre facility design. Industry recommended practices such as the use of high efficiency uninterruptible power systems (UPS), cooling systems and IT virtualization are on the list as well.

In addition, the government has also recently launched the Green Data Centre Innovation Programme (GDCIP) which aims to boost the competitiveness of the data centre industry by raising the overall energy efficiency.

As Singapore continues on her Smart Nation journey, it is essential for both public and private organisations to embrace energy efficient, “green” data centres. This is not only beneficial for the environment, but also for the organisations themselves in terms enhanced data centre performances and lower operational costs. 

* Ronald Schepers is vice president, IT Business Singapore, Schneider Electric.