Asia's hyperscalers hustle for juice as datacenters drain grid

Power shortages are driving the industry to once-unthinkable places

Southeast Asia's hyperscalers face plenty of challenges – from securing talent, property, and keeping construction costs down – but these hurdles pale in comparison to the task of banking enough power.

"The countries in APAC today are actually power deficient," lamented BDx Data Centers CEO Mayank Srivastava, speaking in Singapore at DataCloud APAC 2024. In his keynote address, he said that a 12 percent energy surplus is needed in a country for it to be considered energy "safe."

He did point out that, according to the International Energy Agency, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan are all estimated to have between five and 12 percent energy over-sufficiency, while China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have even less of a surplus.

Srivastava deemed the deficit a "scary situation" and suggested that, given enough datacenter deployment, the national grid could "become unstable."

AI boom changed user requirements

Lionel Yeo, CEO of ST Telemedia Global Data Centres, said during a panel session that power remains the most prominent issue.

He noted that ten years ago his company was looking at three megawatt contracts, but now that number was easily ten to 15, with sizable contracts even larger. He called the increase a "testament to the growth of the cloud business."

Overall, the need for power creates a balancing game against factors such as where the talent lies, the space to build and operate a datacenter, and more, he said.

"I think the cost of construction is a key thing, given the inflationary pressure posed forward," commented Digital Realty veep Govind Choudhary. "Data sovereignty is also something which is impacting datacenters."

But it all boils down to demand. "The cloud firms are going where the demand is, and they appreciate the power and the cost availability side of it, but they don't have a choice," said Cushman & Wakefield MD Vivek Dahiya.

National disasters and floating barges no longer a deal breaker

"When there is no power, we need to find solutions to the problem we face – be it onsite power generation, or, you know, I think we're looking at micro nuclear now," added Equinix senior director Gavin O'Reilly.

"This power crisis, I think it's really gonna push us a bit more in terms of our infrastructure," he added.

That means the industry is becoming even less risk averse – looking at building infrastructure in areas prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons.

"Back in the old days, we used to be extremely risk averse," recalled O'Reilly. "For example, in Tokyo, one of the main ones [datacenters] is on reclaimed land, and we wouldn't touch it – ignoring that the basement went down 100 meters, and the walls were six feet thick."

According to O'Reilly, historical data now shows it's not the natural disasters that cause problems, but human error.

Matthew Benic, head of commercial for Keppel DC, cited the use of floating datacenters as evidence of risk appetite and pragmatism in the face of capacity challenges. "Five years ago, building a datacenter literally floating on a barge in the water was unthinkable," he mused.

"Technology is changing. Applications are changing. Workloads are much more resilient at an application level now, so it does mean that you can look at areas which once upon a time you didn't want to see," he said. ®

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