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NUS and NTU Launch Singapore’s First Tropical Data Centre Testbed

Image credits: Courtesy: news.nus.edu.sg

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), together with key stakeholders in Singapore’s data centre industry, have established a new research programme to develop innovative and sustainable cooling solutions for data centres located in tropical locations. A state-of-the-art testbed facility will be set up in NUS to promote the co-creation and demonstration of such advanced cooling technologies.

The new Sustainable Tropical Data Centre Testbed (STDCT) – the first of its kind in the tropics – will serve as an innovation hub for academia and industry to work together to future-proof the region’s data centre industry. The programme will see researchers develop and demonstrate energy-efficient cooling technologies to achieve breakthroughs in the tropical data centre environment. The testbed facility is expected to be operational by 1 October 2021.

This programme is jointly funded by the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF), and an anchor industry partner. The research is led by NUS and NTU and is supported by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and other industry partners.

The new STDCT will be housed on the NUS Kent Ridge campus. The new facility will house state-of-the-art equipment such as a novel desiccant-coated heat exchanger design, and a StatePoint Liquid Cooling System (SPLC). The SPLC helps data centres operate more efficiently in tropical locations.

The combination of these technologies will enable a more energy-efficient cooling solution for buildings in a tropical climate that make use of ambient air that is otherwise hot and humid. Innovative chip-level hybrid cooling will be adopted to keep the servers cool. Smart operation of these technologies using Artificial Intelligence (AI), with the digital twin capability, will not only be more water and power-efficient but will also ensure the longevity of the data centre’s equipment and servers in the long run.

This flexible and full-scale live data facility enables the identification of potential operational risks of the solutions being tested so that de-risking measures that are well-suited for the tropical climate can be designed.

The STDCT will be part of the NUS Living Laboratory, a strategic initiative to transform NUS into a major testbed for pilots and trials at a scale that has not been possible in the past. This will facilitate the translation of scientific discoveries in the laboratory into useful technologies and capabilities for solving real-world problems and industry applications.

Research at the STDCT will be co-led by researchers from both NUS, NTU and data centre industry partners, with active inputs from relevant government agencies. Companies will share their needs and requirements with the research community to ideate and innovate the solutions.

The rise of the digital economy has led to the growing demand for data centres that house computing and data storage infrastructure. As computer servers generate a lot of heat, these data centres are currently air-cooled at temperatures between 23 and 27 degrees Celsius, and an ambient humidity of 50 to 60 per cent as the industrial practice. Maintaining such controlled environments require high energy consumption, resulting in high cost and carbon emissions – particularly for tropical countries like Singapore.

Singapore supplies about 60 per cent of the data centres located in Southeast Asia. Data centres in Singapore consume almost 7 per cent of the country’s total energy needs, a figure projected to reach 12 per cent by 2030. Thus, there is an increasing need to reduce power consumption and carbon footprint in packing more computing power within the same floor area, while developing solutions to sustain the cooling demands of data centres.

Experts say that data centres are the backbone of the digital economy and they require constant cooling for optimal operations. The new STDCT will accelerate the development and test-bedding of innovative and sustainable solutions for data centres, towards commercial deployment. As part of the country’s Energy Grid 2.0 programme, the testbed facility will also support Singapore’s journey towards becoming a low-emissions economy.

While the IMDA said that Singapore’s digital economy continues to generate and use data at exponential rates. The agency affirmed that it would work closely with industry partners to push technological boundaries to bring about more energy-efficient data centres and encourage the adoption of best-in-class technologies, solutions and standards. This will enable the country to grow its data centre ecosystem sustainably and further entrench Singapore as one of the world’s leading data centre hubs.

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.

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