Across Southeast Asia (SEA), the region’s data centre industry is experiencing a period of generational change. In Singapore, the region’s most mature market, construction of new data centres has ground to a halt, stopped short by a government moratorium that took effect back in 2019 - part of the government’s attempts to find a way to reconcile a power-hungry business with its own commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. Elsewhere, the rise of e-commerce and cloud, combined with the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is driving demand for digital infrastructure to all-time highs. “In 2019, SEA’s digital economy was worth about $100bn. That figure is showing every sign of tripling by 2025,” says Darren Hawkins, CEO of SpaceDC.
SpaceDC’s COO, Carolyn Harrington, explains that, “Traditionally, companies would look to house their data and compute resources in Singaporean data centres. But Singapore has a moratorium going on right now as the country grapples with how to reconcile its data centre industry with its carbon-neutrality goals.” The trend emerging in response, she continues, is that companies across SEA are now gravitating towards data centres within emerging markets like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as opposed to Singapore.
This is where SpaceDC comes in. Founded in 2019, the Singapore-based startup is bringing new levels of technical sophistication, and a focus on green power, to emerging markets throughout SEA. The company opened its first data centre in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in November of last year. Housed in an elegant, yet industrial, silver building 15 kilometres from the heart of the city, JAK2 delivers 1.45 MW of carrier neutral data centre capacity in a Tier III facility that not only delivers a PUE of 1.3 in a country where average temperatures never fall below 25 Degrees Celsius, but also holds the title of Asia’s first OCP-Ready data centre.
Now, with SpaceDC’s next project, JAK1 - a 24 MW hyperscale facility that both dramatically expands the company’s capacity in Indonesia, and maintains the exacting standards that make JAK2 stand out from the competition - well underway, we sat down with Hawkins, Harrington, and SpaceDC’s CTO Nick Stavroulakis, to discuss the changing landscape of SEA’s data centre industry, the legacy of COVID-19, and the realities of delivering green data centre infrastructure in the tropics.
Staying cool and keeping it green in the tropics
“Climate is a huge factor to consider when expanding into both developing and mature markets in SEA. Jakarta and Singapore are both very hot and humid climates year-round, as opposed to Melbourne or Sydney, or markets further north where you get seasons,” explains Stavroulakis, the man in charge of designing and building a portfolio of data centres that are not only capable of delivering world-class colocation services in the heart of Jakarta, but doing it sustainably. “Success in SEA is really dependent on building to a design that maximises your facility's efficiency in this hot and humid climate.”
As a result, SpaceDC’s Jakarta data centres - which are both housed on its 1.8 hectare ID01 campus - take a novel approach to cooling their server racks. “Rather than use a very traditional chilled water solution, or even a DX CRAC unit design, we're using high-efficiency, variable-speed chillers, which bring our efficiency right up and our PUE right down,” Stavroulakis explains. “With the design of JAK2, we spent a lot of time designing and building to both international and Indonesian standards to make sure that the facility meets the needs and expectations of both overseas and domestic customers.” JAK2 uses fan walls to cool its server racks which, as opposed to a traditional CRAC unit, is far more efficient. Stavroulakis adds that, from a design and maintenance perspective, “Fan walls also mean that there's no raised floor, which means we can install bigger, heavier, denser racks. The other advantage there is that the fan walls can all be maintained by the onsite staff, as opposed to having to call in a more specialised contractor to come and repair a broken CRAC unit.”
Keeping both temperatures and PUE’s low in a climate like Jakarta is no mean feat, but for SpaceDC, it’s a non-negotiable issue. As Harrington explains, “Sustainability really is at the heart of our philosophy, starting from the design phase of the data centre.”
Going green in SEA, however, can be an uphill struggle. “Jakarta still uses mostly coal-fired power stations,” says Stavroulakis. “Which is why we've also got several options for doing onsite gas power generation, which is good compared to buying exclusively from the grid. Natural gas is a very good transition fuel in countries like Indonesia where there aren't enough renewables to go around.” JAK2 was the first data centre in Indonesia to fit a Selective Catalytic Reduction system to the diesel generators used to power its UPS, ensuring that maintaining its rate of 99.982% uptime availability doesn’t come at the cost of its green ambitions.
SpaceDC is also actively exploring more on-demand renewable energy generation for the customers for whom green power is a must-have. “If we have the demand from the customer, we'll develop our own solar array to fuel their presence in our facility,” says Hawkins. “We've been working away in the background developing those options, and we're ready to start having those conversations with our customers. It's a good interim step that allows us to offer a far more environmentally friendly and efficient alternative to grid supply.” In the meantime, Stavroulakis and his team are exhibiting a laser-like focus on reducing the power that SpaceDC’s facilities consume. In a market where renewables are in short supply, “It's better to reduce the amount of energy we use in the first place than to try and buy just solar power in a market where it isn't widely available.”
Harrington, whose job as COO is very much the Yin to Stavroulakis’ Yang, is quick to add that “Sustainability is at the heart of our business, and we instil it in everything we do - not just how we run our data centres.” From cutting down on paper usage in the office, using as little power as possible, and making sure that the power that is used is the greenest power possible, to reusing building materials. “When we built JAK2, we didn't throw anything away; all waste materials were reused in the construction process,” she adds.
JAK1: Taking it to the next level
“As a design objective, what we wanted to do with JAK2 was provide a robust and resilient data centre built to international standards that matched the quality of facility you might see in Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney and other tier one markets,” says Hawkins.
JAK2 has been up and running for just under six months now and, while groundbreaking in many ways, its 1.45 MWs pale in comparison to the next phase of SpaceDC’s Indonesian expansion. “JAK1 takes us to a new level in terms of being able to provide better performance and technical specifications to our customers,” enthuses Hawkins, adding that, “We've spent a lot of time during the building of JAK2 using the lessons we learned along the way to improve JAK1.” The four-storey facility can accommodate taller racks, and even denser server deployment of up to 10 kilowatts per rack, and promises to deliver some of the greenest, most efficiently-used power of any data centre in the region. To do that, JAK1’s design is breaking with a lot of the accepted practices in the Indonesian data centre market. “There's a lot of accepted redundancy in the design of some of the data centres in the Indonesian market,” explains Hawkins, “which is obviously inefficient, from a product, design, and environmental perspective.” SpaceDC, Hawkins adds, is looking to educate its customers about the fact that, because JAK1 (and JAK2) facilities are built to next generation standards of quality, they don't need the same amount of built-in resilience that more traditional facilities require.
“The average PUE for a data centre in Jakarta is close to 2, and the Uptime Industry calculates the global average at around 1.58,” says Stavroulakis. “We have a PUE of 1.3 which, if you look at a cold climate, isn't that impressive. But if you look at the kinds of PUE being recorded in tropical climates like ours, it's quite good.”
JAK1 was originally going to spin up in 2021, but the pressures of COVID-19 have conspired to push the launch date to early next year - still an impressive feat given the hammer blow that the pandemic delivered to the delicate Swiss watch of the global just-in-time manufacturing industry. “I think the world of manufacturing has spent the last 20 years or so really refining that 'just in time' model, where you have the minimum amount of inventory possible, parts from one factory get finished and then shipped straight out to another factory for the next step, and so on,” says Stavroulakis. “It was a really big eye opener to see how COVID-19 threw that whole model out the window more or less overnight.” Over the past 12 months, SpaceDC has worked closely with its manufacturing partners and suppliers to overcome the challenges of the pandemic. “Everyone’s thinking three, four, five steps ahead, as opposed to before COVID-19, when you could just think of the next one or two,” Stavroulakis adds.
The OCP in SEA
Originally founded as part of Facebook, the Open Compute Project (OCP) has spent the past decade building a global community of technology leaders looking to bring the benefits of open-sourced design and manufacturing - which already has a firm foothold in the software space - to the data centre hardware industry.
“JAK2 is the first OCP-ready data centre in all of SEA. Besides the facility being OCP-ready, we've also achieved Colo Solution Provider Status from the OCP, which translates to our offerings having a strong technical service and support capability, which enables our customers to scale their deployments of OCP infrastructure,” says Hawkins.
“It's really exciting to be a part of the OCP community. It really helps to distinguish us as a brand in terms of being part of the same community as tech giants like Google and Facebook, and it helps us position ourselves as a brand that our customers can depend on to deliver world-class solutions.”
Building for the future
“Green power is going to be immensely important over the next few years. Customers are looking for end-to-end services that include green power and we're developing the solutions to meet those needs,” says Hawkins. “Our focus at SpaceDC is to provide technically focused and green-driven data centre development in Asia. Our mission is to be a one-stop-shop for customers looking to expand in both mature and emerging markets.” In the coming years, SpaceDC is set to grow, not only in Indonesia - where the company is already exploring projects in other cities outside Jakarta - but across emerging markets throughout SEA. The plan, Hawkins explains, is to continue driving data centre standards to higher and higher levels in the markets where SpaceDC operates, while continuing to keep sustainability at the forefront of everything the company does.
In order to stay ahead in the data centre industry, Stavroulakis explains that you need to think, design, and build ahead of the curve. “It takes about three to six months to design a new facility, then you have permitting, building, equipping - progressing from the point where you start a project to the day when it goes online can take two to three years,” he explains. When the SpaceDC team sits down to plan the next generation of facilities, the key is to “always be looking at that next wave of innovations and ways to create efficiencies. If we sat down and designed our data centres to look like the ones that are operating today, by the time they came to market, they'd already be a few years behind the curve. Designing for the future is a huge focus for us.”
This cutting edge design, Harrington adds, is only as effective as the team behind its day-to-day operations. “You can build an amazing data centre, but if you don't operate it right and have the right team in place, it doesn't matter,” she says. “I can say unequivocally that, in our operation team, the left hand definitely knows what the right hand is doing. COVID-19 placed a huge task in front of them and, as a company, we're immensely proud of the work that they've done.”
For Hawkins, as the originator and guiding force behind SpaceDC’s strategic direction, the ID01 campus is just the beginning. “It’s the start of a broader strategy for us in SEA. We're very much looking to provide capacity for our customers to grow,” he says. “We're embracing the challenge of driving data centre standards in Indonesia, and we look forward to continuing in the future, not just in Indonesia, but in other countries as well.”