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Facebook and Singapore teams looking for ways to get data centres relaxing in moist tropical climes

Heat and humidity are horrible, and your server can’t quaff a cocktail to cool off

Singapore’s two major universities — Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) — have announced they are establishing a US$17.2M research program to develop data centre cooling tech that works in tropical environments.

“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,” said NUS in their canned statement.

The program is primarily funded by National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) and Facebook, which has made Singapore its Asian home. Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is supporting the university research, and additional industry partners include Ascenix Pte Ltd, CoolestDC Pte Ltd, Keppel Data Centres, New Media Express Pte Ltd, and Red Dot Analytics Pte Ltd.

Perennially steamy Singapore currently houses around 60 per cent of Southeast Asia’s data centres, but playing host consumes almost seven per cent of the island nation’s total energy expenditure. That percentage is expected to increase to 12 per cent by the decade’s end.

The city-state put a moratorium on data centre construction in 2019, citing the “intensive” use of electricity and the environmental strain of heavy water use.

As data centres require constant cooling and humidity regulation, this endeavour looks for how to make the centres sustainable, affordable and efficient in Singapore’s tropical climate.

The STDCT will be housed on NUS’s Kent Ridge campus and will include a desiccant-coated heat exchanger and a posh version of an evaporative cooler from Nortek, known as the StatePoint Liquid Cooling System, to make use of Singapore’s hot and humid ambient air instead of fighting against it.

The servers themselves will receive chip-level hybrid cooling in the form of a heatsink design equipped with both air and liquid cooling, in a “single integrated piece which eliminates the connectors and ducts,” which serves as an “alternative air-cooling solution during water-loop maintenance” to reduce server downtime.

All will be operated by digital twin-capable AI.

The research done at STDCT will fall into the four main categories that make up the centre’s design: Air-cooled Tropical Data Centre 2.0 (works that seeks optimum temperature and humidity levels); Desiccant-Coated Heat Exchanger-enhanced Indirect Evaporative Cooling for Tropical Operations; Direct Chip Hybrid Cooling; and Cognitive Digital Twin.

NUS said:

A combination of these innovative cooling technologies, when they are successfully developed and tested, could significantly reduce energy consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions 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 team is moving quickly — the test bed system is expected to be operational by October 1, 2021. ®

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