Pushing The Boundaries of Sustainable Data Center Design

Jay Park

Chief Development Officer at Digital Edge

As the digital revolution rapidly gains momentum with digitization accelerating across all sectors worldwide, so the data we produce is growing exponentially. The annual global data output is expected to hit 175 zettabytes by 2025, that’s 175 trillion gigabytes! Handling all this information, and processing it efficiently is crucial, and in the face of climate change, data center operators and hyperscalers in Asia-Pacific must put sustainability at the forefront of operations. 

Storing and processing data is a power-hungry enterprise, which is increasingly under the spotlight, due to the global energy crisis. Data centers consume between 20 to 50 times the energy of a typical office building and approximately 1% of global electricity supply. Given this, the burden of making every watt of energy count is high. To make sustainable IT a reality for all, data center operators need to be bolder and set more aggressive targets in our pursuit for computing that is kinder to our planet. 

A Holistic View of Data Center Sustainability

If we are to effectively reduce our carbon footprint, data center operators have to go beyond the typical metrics used in the industry like energy efficiency and power usage effectiveness (PUE). Instead, we have to take a holistic view of the whole process of building, designing, and operating more sustainable data centers, and crucially, work together with our customers and partners to make meaningful impact on climate change. 

Thankfully, we are headed in the right direction. As sustainability takes center stage and environmental awareness grows in APAC, data center operators and hyperscalers in the region are making sustainable IT a priority.

Scrutinizing the Whole Ecosystem

To make data centers sustainable, we need to look closely at the whole data center ecosystem, including water use, power supply using renewable energy if available, and the hardware and software used. Data centers use an enormous amount of power, which is directly linked to water usage; improving data center design to make it more efficient will reduce the amount of water and power required. This is no easy task, especially in a region like APAC, where access to power supplies, especially renewable energy sources is highly variable. Building energy efficient data centers in hot, humid climates requires complex design and use of innovative technologies. 

Steps to making change are being taken. For example, at Digital Edge we are the first colocation operator to pioneer Nortek’s Statepoint® Liquid cooling technology in Asia at our newly built NARRA1 data center in Manila. This breakthrough system enables evaporative cooling, providing a significant reduction in annual power and water consumption over existing technologies. The proof will be in the results, but initial signs are promising with our new Manila facility achieving the PUE of 1.15 at 75% load during Phase 1 testing, better than its ambitious design PUE of 1.193 (against a global average of 1.55[1]), making it one of the most energy efficient data centers in the Philippines. 

The Green Data Center

Building smarter, more sustainable data centers might seem challenging, but by following the circular economy principles it is possible to make a big impact. When building NARRA1, we worked to reuse and maintain structural elements from the existing brownfield site, including 62.75%  of the total area of the flooring, roofing, exterior framing of the building, and interior walls. We also worked with design consultants to ensure the facility is triple certified to meet the highest standards of green building certifications (LEED Gold, BERDE and EDGE). This includes making small changes such as using high-albedo materials on the roof area to reduce heat and installing water efficient plumbing fixtures, all of which add up to reduce the building’s carbon footprint long term. 

A Team Effort

Deploying a data center is a shared responsibility and it’s important to bring our partners and customers on the journey to sustainable IT.  By better ‘knowing our customers’ space’ and working with their IT team to assess the way they manage their data center infrastructure, we can educate customers about new technologies and innovations that in turn help reduce their carbon footprint. This includes accepting higher operating temperatures that reduce energy consumption while still maintaining the integrity of the system. 

Building redundancy into the customer software rather than the data center itself means fewer generators, which are large consumers of power, are needed on site. Some data centers have even reduced their reliance on generators by up to 70%. These centers not only reduce their use of dirty energy, they also store less diesel fuel on site and reduce emissions from generator testing, which is usually conducted at least once a month.

Vendors and construction partners who have a shared commitment to sustainability principles also play an important role in improving operations. Every little effort helps, such as working with vendors that provide data center piping using recyclable plastic with a lower carbon footprint than metal alternatives. More broadly, data center operators need to come together to raise the bar across the industry, working via organisations like the iMasons Climate Accord to set new standards for us all to aspire to. 

The data gold rush is upon us. Surging levels of digitization globally only confirm the fact that storing, processing, and analyzing the world’s data will only become more crucial to humanity. As data center providers we must unite in our mission to fight climate change and embrace new technologies and innovations that will build more sustainable IT for all.