A Green Revolution for Tropical Data Centres

Sep 11, 2019
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A Green Revolution for Tropical Data Centres


Energy efficient data centre facilities in tropical climates are possible and operators can take specific steps to address their facility’s impact to the wider environment. 


We use an enormous amount of energy as we constantly use our mobile and computing devices for everyday activities, such as chatting on social networks, or streaming movies. What remains unseen behind all this online activity, is the carbon footprint generated. 


Already, data centres consume more than 400 terawatt hours (TWh) of all power generated globally and account for 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – a footprint equivalent to the entire aviation industry1


As we continue to find sustainable ways of doing business, data centres too can be optimised to minimise their environmental impact and achieve lower cost of operations in the following ways: 


1. Start with green building blocks 


Many factors support decreased energy usage within a data centre such as compact buildings, low emission materials, waste recycling, and alternative energy sources for power and cooling. Changes like upgrading chillers, power supply systems and transitioning to LED lighting can make a material impact over time. 


The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) have developed the Singapore Standard for Green Data Centres2, providing organisations with a framework as well as a logical and consistent methodology to achieve continuous improvements in energy efficiency in their data centre facilities. 


Benchmarking and aligning with government agency requirements on energy usage and distribution is one way to lower the carbon footprint. This involves looking at all aspects of facility design, from structural layout to deployment of power and cooling systems. Monitoring systems will help manage energy and space utilisation. Finally, regular review, discussion and collaboration with customers, technical consultants, architects and authorities all work towards lowering the carbon footprint. 


2. Understand current utilisation patterns in order to improve energy efficiency 


In today’s information era, colocation customers expect the ability to access real-time information about their IT assets whenever and wherever they are. Tools such as power utilisation reports allow for transparency and enable businesses to investigate their IT and operating infrastructure. The information can then be used to drill down into individual systems, pinpoint inefficiencies, then subsequently outline a plan to reduce energy consumption. 


Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies can help monitor energy consumption patterns in real time, to ensure efficiency is optimised in a smart way without the need for constant manual supervision. For example, Google’s machine learning system, in collaboration with Deep Mind3, was able to save up to 40 percent of the plant’s energy used for cooling and total energy use by 15 percent. 


3. Optimise data centre cooling 


In tropical climates such as Singapore, cooling systems account for approximately 30 percent of total energy consumed in a data centre. In traditional data centres, servers are kept in a cooled environment between 20°C and 25°C, and 50 and 60 percent relative ambient humidity. In tropical climates, temperatures can rise to 38°C and humidity levels can reach 90 percent. 


As digital infrastructures become more complex, new ways to cool the data centre, such as evaporative cooling, can help reduce the power used by traditional cooling systems, creating a more sustainable future for our digital economy. 


4. Reduce IT infrastructure inefficiencies 


Data centres consume an immense amount of power to perform functions reliably and effectively. Electrical costs in data centres typically account for 40 to 60 percent of total operating costs. It is estimated that by 2030, data centres in Singapore will account for up to 12 percent of the country’s total energy demand4


In order to reduce the power consumption, operators need to work together with IT service providers to lower the amount of energy required to power IT equipment. For example, older servers require more power and cooling. Replacing them with newer more energy efficient processors can already enable the industry to reap the benefits of lower costs of operation. Not only are newer servers more energy efficient, they also enable new technologies that enhance performance. 


Building a green data centre in the tropics starts with smart choices around the core data centre design and build, and sustainability must be a priority across the entire technology stack. By leveraging the latest technologies and monitoring systems that allow for transparent analysis of power, cooling and infrastructure, inefficiencies can then be diagnosed and addressed. With this, tropical data centre facility managers can make significant progress on both decreasing environmental impact and lowering operational costs, thereby achieving both sustainability and business goals.  


1 Independent, 23 January 2016, Global warming: Data centres to consume three times as much energy in next decade, experts warn 
2 IMDA, Green Data Centre Standard 
3 DeepMind, 20 July 2016, DeepMind AI Reduces Google Data Centre Cooling Bill by 40% 
4 TODAY, 30 May 2016, S’pore to trial cost-efficient tropical data centre