Data has become the lifeblood of today’s digital economy, and data growth continues unabated.
Driven by ongoing digitalisation, the volume of data generated in a single day is expected to reach a staggering 463 billion gigabytes by 2025. From remote working to cloud computing to the metaverse, a common thread that undergirds all digital products and services is data, received and transmitted on a constant, near-instantaneous basis.
Data centres make this all possible and play a fundamental role in enabling the digital economy. This is especially apparent in Asia Pacific, which the International Data Corp has found to be leading the world in digital transformation. According to the Global Interconnection Index Vol 5 — an annual market study published by Equinix — Apac’s interconnection bandwidth is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 46% by 2024 to 6,002 Tbps, representing 28% of global interconnection bandwidth.
Managing this volume of data significantly impacts the carbon footprint of data centres and poses enormous — though certainly not insurmountable — technological, operational, and sustainability challenges.
The confluence of digitalisation, sustainability, and collaboration
As the volume of data and data processing requirements grow to keep pace with the requirements of an increasingly digital economy, data centres must equally scale up in size and complexity.
New technologies and innovations are then required to maintain operational reliability, improve energy efficiency and optimise temperature control as power requirements grow and associated infrastructure and equipment increases, including backup generators, servers, network switches and cooling systems.
Sustainability becomes an essential consideration in decision-making surrounding the design and construction of new facilities and the ongoing operations of existing ones. This has put the spotlight on the next generation of data centres, which are increasingly being recognised as vital to the sustainability of the digital economy.
Businesses and service providers are acknowledging the need to rethink their digital infrastructure strategies and rearchitect their plans in a manner that balances economic, environmental, and social considerations while keeping pace with increasing demands for data storage and processing requirements that arise from technology advancement in areas like the Internet of Things, machine learning (ML), cloud, and artificial intelligence (AI).
This is especially important for technology hubs like Singapore, which has a Smart Nation plan and pivoted towards digital transformation to hone its competitive edge.
Acknowledging the need for improved sustainability, the city-state has also launched the Singapore Green Plan, a national movement to advance progress towards responsible development and sustainable living. It also paves the way for the greening of Singapore’s digital economy by making it mandatory for new facilities to be certified under Singapore’s existing BCA-IMDA Green Mark Platinum criteria, at a power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio — a ratio that describes how efficiently a data centre uses energy — of 1.3 or better.
While these initiatives provide a blueprint for building sustainability into business practices, no company can single-handedly drive change on an impactful scale. It requires collaboration with like-minded organisations, partners and other stakeholders.
Powering a sustainable future with the right data centre partner
According to the World Economic Forum, an estimated 70% of new value in the economy will come from digitally enabled platform business models over the next decade. This is despite the fact that 47% of the world’s population are currently disconnected from online services.
Whether a business is aiming to meet evolving customer, investor, and employee expectations to reduce its carbon footprint or simply trying to remain compliant with evolving local regulations, choosing a partner that aligns with and effectively promotes these goals is crucial.
Organisations that select the right data centre partner to enable their digital transformation will ensure sustainability and long-term success within the digital economy. A safe bet would be to choose a vendor-neutral colocation data centre provider that is committed to growing its own business sustainably, through shared value programmes that provide benefits to communities and innovative design that reduces its impact on the environment.
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Data centres of the future must incorporate sustainability into their design, alongside technologies to support the growth of cleaner and more efficient facilities and encourage innovation that can be replicated at scale. These innovations and technologies should focus on:
- Low carbon energy — This is necessary to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, moving towards low or carbon-free options such as renewables, diesel replacements, fuel cells, and energy storage systems. Today, generators are capable of operating on hydrogenated vegetable oil, achieving as much as a 90% reduction in emissions compared to diesel.
- Circular economy — Integrating circularity into data centre operations and design enables valuable resources to be reused or recycled. For instance, data centres can export re- covered heat to community district networks, supplying nearby residents with a source of low-carbon heat.
- High-efficiency cooling — A critical feature of a reliable data centre is effective cooling, which requires a lot of energy, especially in tropical climates such as Singapore. Developing and implementing more energy-efficient cooling solutions such as direct-to-chip liquid cooling and standardising higher operating temperature ranges will be key to reducing PUE, even as the industry expands.
- Software-optimised and automated systems — Advanced technology is essential to enabling sustainability. By using software-optimised and automated data centre systems powered by AI or ML, operators can reduce the environmental impact as- sociated with overprovisioning of capacity and resources for maintenance and materials management, as well as improve energy efficiency through more accurate power forecasting.
Green is the new black for data centres in Singapore
In Singapore, the government aims to halve carbon emissions by 2050 — a challenging goal from a data centre investment perspective.
Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong says: “While we continue to welcome data centre investments, we intend to be more selective of which data centres we can accommodate. In particular, we seek to anchor data centres that are best in class in terms of resource efficiency, which can contribute towards Singapore’s economic and strategic objectives. We will also put in place measures to raise the efficiency of existing data centres over time.”
If data centres are the conduit for business transformation in the digital-first economy, sustainable data centres will be the lifeline for long-term prosperity in a world where responsible development is increasingly measured in terms of economic growth, environmental impact, and social progress.
Jason Plamondon is the sustainability senior manager of Equinix Asia-Pacific