Singapore sets new data centre standards to save energy


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Data centres in the region could soon raise their operating temperatures safely as Singapore launches a standard for optimising energy efficiency in tropical climates.

Senior Minister of State, Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary announced the new standard at the ATxEnterprise segment of the Asia Tech x Singapore summit on Thursday (Jun 8).

He said that the standards are the first of their kind in the world, and will support the growth of compute capacity while ensuring environmental sustainability.

"These standards will help operators determine the best operating temperature to optimise energy efficiency, whilst safeguarding operational reliability."

Typically, data centre operators run their equipment at 22 degrees Celsius (deg C) and below.

However, keeping data centres cool in warmer tropical climates can be more challenging, with cooling systems accounting for up to 40 per cent of total energy consumption.

Through the new standard, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) hopes to see data centres gradually increase the data centre operating temperatures to 26 deg C and above.

IMDA said that with every 1 deg C increase in operating temperature, data centres could save about 2 per cent to 5 per cent in cooling energy.

In its pilot with Digital Realty, the data centre operator raised temperatures by 2 deg C at two of its 4.5 megawatt data halls, and observed 2 per cent to 3 per cent lower energy usage in these halls over the trial period.

IMDA said that the Government Technology Agency has also begun trialling higher temperatures in a government data centre.

National University of Singapore associate professor Lee Poh Seng said that even with the standards, data centres will need to take a collaborative approach towards raising temperatures in data centres. This is because raising the supply air temperature can reduce the efficiency of semiconductor chips that compute data, which could lead them to draw more power to maintain an equivalent amount of output.

"The operators definitely need to be collaborative, or at least engage their tenants to make sure that there isn't a higher power penalty from the IT side," he said.

Digital Realty Asia-Pacific vice-president of operations Jon Curry said that while the company has observed good results from the pilot, it will continue to monitor its data centres to find a sweet spot between it and its tenants.

"As we continue to monitor our environment and the customer monitors their environment, we are able to tune the temperature settings for the most optimal outcome for the data centre operator and the customer," he said.

He added that raising temperatures at the data centre was something that the company has always been keen to do. The cost savings from adopting the change could also be passed down to its tenants.

"With the evidence that we have from the trial, we can now sit down with (tenants) and have a real discussion about what temperature increases mean for them," he said.

Prof Lee added that as semiconductor chips consume more energy and the nation's data centres focus on higher-end compute tasks such as generative artificial intelligence and online gaming, there may be a need to include standards for more advanced cooling techniques in future.

"If you don't provide sufficient guidance or set the necessary policy, industry players may not necessarily move in the right direction, or at least not in as quick a fashion that the agency would like," he said.

IMDA said that it will also work with the Building and Construction Authority to update its Green Mark scheme for data centres. The scheme sets energy efficiency and sustainability benchmarks for the industry.

The government had earlier placed a moratorium on new data centre builds in 2019, before putting out a call for applications in July 2022.

Applicants will have to meet more stringent criteria, such as ensuring that their data centres achieve a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.3 under 100 per cent IT load.

PUE is derived by dividing the total amount of power a data centre consumes by the power used to run the computing equipment within it.

Yong Jun

Yong Jun

Business Times Singapore