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Data Centre Industry Gears up for Growth through Greater Energy Efficiency

Collaboration is the tagline at Green Data Centre Forum 2013

As Singapore becomes an increasingly attractive hub for enterprise IT operations and regional data centres, the business case for sustainable development of the industry has never been more compelling. At the recent Green Data Centre Forum 2013 jointly organised by Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), more than 250 data centre managers and engineers gathered to exchange notes on latest technologies and developments in energy efficiency in a sector known for its huge energy demands. In fact, the brisk succession of energy efficiency initiatives introduced one after another reflects the accelerated growth being anticipated of the industry, and the importance of managing energy-related costs to enhance business competitiveness. According to Broadgroups 2010 report, Singapores total commercial data centre capacity is expected to expand by a further 51%, bringing total area to nearly 337,000 square metres by 2015. And when the 10 largest data centres can consume the energy equivalent to 130,000 households in Singapore, the potential to reduce energy consumption and extract energy savings is very significant. Cost-savings aside, in our energy constrained world, it is also about responsible, sustainable use of energy resources, and about reducing the impact on the environment. As it is, Singapore has taken a public pledge in the international arena to reduce its energy intensity by 35 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Picture 1: In anticipation of exponential growth, Singapores data centre industry has rolled out a series of energy efficiency initiatives, the latest being the BCA-IDA Green Mark scheme for data centres, which is also the first of its kind in Asia.

Picture 2: Representatives from pioneer recipients of IDA-BCA Green Mark for Data Centres pose with BCA Chairman Mr Quek Swee Tiat. Companies are Credit Suisse Asia Pacific regional data centre (Platinum award), Equinix SG2 data centre (GoldPlus award), Singapore Tourism Board data centre (Gold award), and Abbott Laboratories data centre (Gold award).

Greening an Energy-Intensive Sector Launched at the forum, the BCA-IDA Green Mark scheme for the category of new data centres represents the latest step in advancing energy efficiency (pictures 1-2). Applied to new data centres at their planning and design phase, the scheme assesses energy performance using energy modeling. Based on results for energy efficiency, water efficiency, sustainable construction & management, indoor environment quality, the data centres are recognised by a Green Mark award: Platinum, GoldPlus, Gold or Certified. Healthcare company Abbott Laboratories is the first recipient of the award. When fully operational, its new data centre (Gold award) is expected to save over 1 million kWh in energy use every year.

For the more than 50 data centres already operating, there is the BCA-IDA Green Mark scheme for the existing data centres which was introduced in October 2012. Three data centres have been certified under this scheme: Credit Suisse Asia Pacific regional data centre (Platinum award); Equinix SG2 data centre (GoldPlus award) and the Singapore Tourism Board data centre (Gold award). By no means does the energy efficiency journey come to end with a Green Mark award. For Equinix SG2 data centre, the benefits of going green and optimising energy usage have been real and tangible, leading to a 10 per cent reduction in electricity consumption and yearly savings of 4.3 million kWh. Recounting the experience with the Green Mark scheme, Equinix operations director Mr Goh Thiam Poh shared ruefully that the data centre had missed out on the highest Platinum award by falling just short of the prescribed chiller plant efficiency for that level. The company is determined to address the issue by the next audit, and energy efficiency improvements will continue to identify far more savings. The first of its kind in Asia, the BCA-IDA Green Mark for Data Centres is the result of a twoyear collaborative effort by BCA and IDA and their partners Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technology University (ERI@N) and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) based in the United States.

Innovating for Energy Efficiency The forum was also the first occasion where the results from two pilots implemented under the Green Data Centre Innovation Challenge were shared in detail with the industry. Various members of the consortiums led by Equinix Singapore and Toshiba Asia Pacific took turns to discuss their experiences and lessons learnt from developing and implementing the pilots. These had involved innovative combinations of energy efficiency technologies deployed inside actual data centres. The pilot for the SG1 Cooling Efficiency Project at Equinixs older SG1 data centre was the first to implement continuous real-time monitoring of IDAs SS564 Green Data Centre Standard energy efficiency metrics on a web-console. From the enhanced visibility, the Equinix team had been able to conduct innovative retrofitting that led to energy savings of 8.6 million kWh a year (pictures 3-5).

Interestingly, the other pilot led by Toshiba Outside Air Cooling in Modular Data Centre took place in a double-deck data centre module prototype sited at a car-park in Nanyang Technological University. Besides demonstrating the effectiveness of applying outside air cooling technologies in the warm tropical weather conditions of Singapore, the solution had shown the energy reduction potential of at least 512,000 kWh equivalent to energy savings of S$128,000 a year (pictures 6-8). Initiated by IDA, the Green Data Centre Innovation Challenge had seen a total of 4 consortiums win grants in 2012 to deploy their respective energy efficiency pilots.

Readying for Exponential Growth Other initiatives to help the industry gear up in sustainable ways include the Singapore Standard for Green Data Centres: Energy and Environmental Management Systems, also known as SS 564, developed by the Information Technology Standards Committee (ITSC) which is supported by IDA and SPRING Singapore. Then, there is the Investment Allowance Scheme for Energy Efficiency Projects that encourages data centres to retrofit for greater energy efficiency. The Green Data Centre Technology R&D Roadmap is being drawn up by IDA in collaboration with the industry, academia, and relevant agencies. The roadmap will also help develop a shared vision among industry stakeholders and provide guidance for R&D investments. As the CEOs of BCA and IDA both stressed in separate comments to the forum, the business rationale for the industry to embark on the green data centre journey is a solid one. And as efforts and results have shown so far, that journey would not be one that is lonely. Through greater collaboration, industry sharing sessions and teamwork towards increasing energy efficiency, the industry will be favourably positioned to capitalise on phenomenal growth ahead. For more on Green Data Centre Forum 2013 and to view the presentations, please visit http://www.greeninfocomm.sg/
Article contributed by the H2PC Asia resource team that attended the Green Data Centre Forum on 14 March 2013 at MapleTree Business Auditorium. Please contact byap@h2pcasia.com