Singapore tech players Keppel Data Centres, Ascenix, CoolestDC, New Media Express and Red Dot Analytics have joined forces with two of Singapore’s top universities in a bid to build data centre solutions for tropical climates.
The companies have teamed up with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), as part of a new S$23 million research program aimed at developing innovative and sustainable cooling solutions for data centres in tropical locations.
As part of the alliance, a state-of-the-art testbed facility will be set up in NUS to promote co-creation and demonstration of advanced cooling technologies.
Broadly, the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT), as it is named, will serve as an innovation hub for academia and industry to work together to future-proof the local region’s data centre industry.
Curated by the Cooling Energy Science and Technology Singapore (CoolestSG) Consortium hosted at NUS, the program will see researchers develop and trial energy-efficient cooling technologies in the tropical data centre environment, with the hope that the endeavour will lead to technological breakthroughs in the space.
The testbed facility is expected to be operational by 1 October 2021.
Always a challenge, keeping data centres cool in hot, humid climates requires a lot of energy. However, as industry and governments alike work towards lowering emissions, new solutions are being developed all the time to reduce the amount of energy required to cool servers.
The new program, which is jointly funded by the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) and anchor industry partner Facebook, will feature a number of new and emerging cooling techniques such as a novel desiccant-coated heat exchanger design, and equipment such as a StatePoint Liquid Cooling System (SPLC).
The SPLC, developed by Nortek Air Solutions in partnership with Facebook, helps data centres operate more efficiently in tropical locations.
The combination of these technologies, among others, is hoped to enable a more energy-efficient cooling solution for buildings in a tropical climate, making use of ambient air that is otherwise hot and humid. Moreover, innovative chip-level hybrid cooling will be adopted to keep the servers cool.
Additionally, smart operation of these technologies using artificial intelligence (AI), with digital twin capability, is expected to make the data centre infrastructure more water and power efficient while also also ensuring the longevity of the data centre's equipment and servers.
Singapore, being an eminently tropical country claiming a high saturation of data centres serving the region, makes a perfect environment in which to develop and trial such technology.
Indeed, Singapore supplies about 60 per cent of the data centres located in Southeast Asia, according to NUS, with data centres in the city-state consuming almost 7 per cent of the country’s total energy needs, a figure projected to reach 12 per cent by 2030.
“Data centres are the backbone of Singapore's national digital transformation, and there is a need to improve their energy efficiency and sustainability as we continue to grow as a data centre hub,” said NTU’s senior vice president of research Lam Khin Yong.
“On the NTU Smart Campus, our scientists have pioneered award-winning artificial intelligence technologies to tackle these challenges as part of the NTU 2025 strategic plan and will adapt them for trials at the Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed.
“The initiative is a national open innovation platform where academia and industry players jointly develop and testbed new cooling technologies that will benefit the entire data centre ecosystem,” he added.
Research at the STDCT will be co-led by researchers from both NUS and NTU, along with data centre industry partners and active input from relevant government agencies.
STDCT’s research activities are to be organised under four work packages: Air-cooled Tropical Data Centre 2.0; Desiccant-Coated Heat Exchanger-enhanced Indirect Evaporative Cooling for Tropical Operations; Direct Chip Hybrid Cooling; and Cognitive Digital Twin.
These cooling technologies, in concert, are anticipated to significantly reduce energy consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25 per cent, as compared to conventional data centres which are traditionally air-cooled.
If adopted industry-wide across the entire tropical region, energy usage of the data centre industry could potentially be lowered by at least 40 per cent, the universities suggested.
In the longer term, the STDCT envisions recommending operating guidelines and setting new standards based on proven findings from the new technologies, for greener data centre operations.
In March, two of the organisations involved in the data centre initiative, Keppel and Facebook, combined their efforts to build and own a new 15,000km subsea cable system linking Singapore to North America via Indonesia.
Specifically, subsidiaries of Singapore’s Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation, Facebook and Telkom Indonesia struck a deal to build the new subsea transmission cable, dubbed the Bifrost Cable System.
Expected to be completed in 2024, the Bifrost Cable System will connect Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam and the west coast of North America.