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Singapore begins quest for high-rise datacentres

Huawei, Keppel Data Centres and the Singapore government will assess the feasibility of building high-rise facilities amid growing demand for datacentre capacity in the region

In tiny Singapore, optimising the use of scarce land to meet competing needs has always been a key priority as the country strives to remain competitive on the global stage.

It has done so successfully so far, having established itself as a global communications and business hub, and more recently, a datacentre hub for the region.

The city-state already supplies half of Southeast Asia’s datacentre capacity, and this is expected to grow as more businesses and consumers in the region take advantage of cloud-based services.

Datacentres are power guzzlers because they need to be kept cool and running all the time. Energy-related costs can account for up to 49% of a typical datacentre’s operating expenditure.

Datacentres take up 9% of Singapore’s power capacity, a figure that is projected to reach 12% by 2020 as the sector grows.

The country’s hot tropical climate does not help. Compared with datacentres in temperate countries, more power is needed to cool Singapore’s facilities.

According to the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), a typical 20MW datacentre in the country consumes electricity equivalent to that of 60,000 households.

Consequently, the power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratings of Singapore’s most power-efficient datacentres are still below those of similar facilities in the US.

For example, the current best-in-class multi-tenant datacentres in Singapore claim to have a PUE rating of 1.44, compared with 1.185 for the largest multi-tenant datacentre in Nevada, US.

Singapore’s land constraints also limit the size of its datacentres. A typical datacentre there is spread over one hectare, and caps out at about 20MW to 25MW of power capacity for 5,000 server racks. By contrast, the 13-hectare Nevada facility has a power capacity of 130MW and can host up to 26,000 server racks.

High-rise datacentres

If Singapore is to support the growing demand for datacentre capacity, a radical change in the way datacentres are designed, powered and cooled is needed. The answer could be high-rise datacentres.

Today, Singapore’s tallest datacentre buildings are six to eight storeys high. This week, the IMDA, Keppel Data Centres and Chinese telecoms giant Huawei said they would conduct a two-year feasibility study to explore the possibility of developing a high-rise datacentre building possibly more than 20 storeys high.

However, the study will not be just about stacking datacentres on top of each other in a high-rise complex. The trio will also look into building architecture and innovations that can significantly reduce energy use, or increase efficiency to lower the best PUE ratings in Singapore by 10-20%.

They will also explore new approaches to cooling, such as natural ventilation or passive cooling methods, internal design elements for server racks and data halls, and intelligent controls using a sensor network.

The IMDA said that if the concept is found to be feasible and scalable, it would significantly reduce the land space requirements of datacentres and contribute to Singapore’s 2030 climate pledge. It could also apply various new approaches in datacentre design and construction methods, processes and applications, both locally and globally.

The concept of high-rise datacentres is not new. Hong Kong-based datacentre provider iAdvantage has already built a 30-storey, 350,000ft2 facility in Chaiwan, Hong Kong, offering 4,000 racks in common areas and private cages. The building features a hot and cold aisle design, and is cooled using dual-feed independent chiller risers.

Read more about datacentres in APAC

But according to London-based datacentre provider Telehouse, the limitation of cooling systems that have been deployed in many high-rise datacentres is that the “available power density and number of data hall floors that can be constructed is limited by the amount of heat rejection plant that can be physically accommodated on the roof of the building”.

It added: “In terms of energy efficiency, a refrigerant-based cooling solution does not compare well with other strategies that are able to take advantage of direct air economisation and evaporative cooling.”

In view of this, Telehouse turned the concept of a large-scale, air-cooled datacentre on its side and employed indirect evaporative air cooling on one face of its 10-storey North Two datacentre.

“Not only did this provide flexible, low-energy cooling to the data halls, but also crucially severed the relationship between the building’s height, its total floor area and finite amount of plant space available at roof level, normally provisioned for cooling plant,” it said.

“The resulting scheme is the world’s first multi-storey indirect adiabatic cooling system to achieve an industry-leading PUE of 1.16, while providing a power capacity of 18.5MW.”

It remains to be seen whether the Singapore team can achieve a similar PUE rating while providing more power and datacentre capacity in a high-rise facility located near the equator.

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