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Why is Singapore a popular country for data centre growth and how is this expected to take shape over the next five years?

Why is Singapore a popular country for data centre growth and how is this expected to take shape over the next five years?

APACData CentresIndustry Expert

The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) have awarded about 80MW of new capacity to four data centre operators through the pilot Data Centre-Call for Application (DC-CFA) exercise. This is part of Singapore’s effort to enable the growth of data centres to support the digital economy in a sustainable manner consistent with our climate change commitments. The IMDA will continue to work with the industry to release more capacity in the near term to support emerging needs for Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) compute, and to encourage the deployment of lower-carbon data centres in Singapore. 

Quality CFA proposals

After the temporary pause in the growth of data centres was lifted in 2022, a pilot DC-CFA was launched to facilitate the sustainable building of new data centre capacity. Flexibility was provided for industry to propose innovative approaches that would:

  • Bring in state-of-the-art technologies and best practices for sustainability, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency and decarbonisation
  • Strengthen Singapore’s international connectivity and position as a regional hub
  • Make a significant contribution to Singapore’s broader economic objectives

There was significant industry interest in this pilot, with more than 20 proposals received. Given the quality of the proposals received, the IMDA has provisionally awarded about 80MW to the following companies:

  • AirTrunk-ByteDance (Consortium)
  • Equinix
  • GDS
  • Microsoft

These four awarded proposals were best able to meet the desired outcomes holistically and had significantly competitive propositions to strengthen Singapore’s position as a regional hub and contribute to broader economic objectives. Key highlights include:

  • Delivering best-in-class energy-efficient performance through comprehensive adoption of liquid cooling and energy-efficient core-IT equipment. This includes meeting Green Mark DC Platinum Certification.
  • Significantly expanding international connectivity, including through facilitating an increase in submarine cable capacity and setting up new carrier-neutral exchanges.
  • Anchoring key compute capacities, including AI/ML compute and High-Performance Compute in Singapore, while linking with offshore data centres to complement Singapore’s capacity.
  • Significant economic commitments to Singapore beyond the direct data centre investments.

The IMDA appreciate the strong support and active participation of the industry in this pilot DC-CFA exercise. The proposals illustrate the continued confidence and the applicants’ commitment to innovatively grow the data centre industry in a sustainable manner and strengthen Singapore’s value proposition as a key technology hub for the region.

Considerations for future data centres

Given the significant interest, EDB and IMDA will continue to engage industry stakeholders on the next bound. They aim to allocate more capacity in the next 12-18 months to advance their interest as an innovative, sustainable, global digital hub. They remain committed to the sustainable growth of the data centre sector and will develop a roadmap together with the industry towards the development of green data centres with lower carbon emissions in support of Singapore’s net zero targets. With rapid advancements in Generative AI, EDB and IMDA will also engage industry stakeholders in the immediate term on the compute and connectivity infrastructure required to build a competitive AI ecosystem. 

Pieter Kraan, Managing Director, Leaseweb Asia Pacific

Pieter Kraan, Managing Director, Leaseweb Asia Pacific

There are multiple reasons why Singapore is such a popular region for data centre growth. Geographically, for example, Singapore is placed very strategically – nestled in the heart of South East Asia. This has been a key driver of its data centre boom and allows the country to act as a digital bridge between the East and West. This central location ensures data centres in Singapore are able to serve a wide range of countries efficiently, making it an ideal hub for businesses aiming to expand their services in the region. The country also boasts world-class telecommunications infrastructure and high-speed connectivity – a major hub for undersea cable networks that connect Asia with Europe, the Middle East and North America. This connectivity ensures fast and reliable data transmission, essential for the performance of data-intensive applications.

Singapore is also known for its stable political climate, transparent legal framework and pro-business policies. It is an established international financial and business hub which has attracted multinational corporations and technology giants. It also contains a highly skilled workforce in technology, engineering and data management. This talented and educated workforce is essential for designing, building and managing sophisticated data centre facilities and makes it an ideal country for data centre expansion. 

In the next five years, I believe that the anticipated surge in cloud services and the Internet-of-Things (IoT) will shape Singapore’s data centre landscape. With cloud providers expanding their presence to cater to increasing demands, the demand for data centres is set to grow. The proliferation of IoT devices, from smart appliances to industrial sensors, generates massive volumes of data that require efficient processing and storage. Singapore’s well-established infrastructure and strategic positioning will make it an attractive destination for companies seeking to leverage these technological trends.

Additionally, as environmental concerns take centre stage, sustainability is becoming a non-negotiable aspect of data centre development. Singapore is well aware of this shift and has taken proactive steps to embrace green practices. The nation’s commitment to energy efficiency, coupled with innovative cooling technologies and renewable energy initiatives, sets the stage for environmentally conscious data centre expansion. Singapore’s emphasis on sustainability is expected to align perfectly with global trends, further enhancing its appeal.

The next five years will see Singapore’s data centre growth trajectory characterised by increased demand, heightened sustainability and a steadfast commitment to technological innovation. As digitalisation continues to reshape industries, Singapore stands ready to solidify its position as a global leader in data centre development. At Leaseweb, we are excited to get behind this growth. Having just opened our fourth local data centre and growing our revenue in the country by 300% in the last 24 months, we are certain the future is bright for Singapore.

Paul Churchill, Vice President, Vertiv Asia

Singapore is a key regional focal point for data centres in South East Asia due to its strategic location. The country is an established hub that links Asia and the rest of the world, facilitating efficient data transfer. 

Furthermore, in comparison to many of its regional peers, Singapore’s infrastructure – including power supply, advanced telecommunications networks as well as efficient transportation and connectivity – is well-developed and dependable. In tandem with that, the country also has well-defined data protection and privacy regulations, which is a boon for consistent digital functionality. This has significant influence over the future of the region’s data centre market, not least because of the progress made in fields like 5G and the network Edges. With computing pushed in search of an ultra-dense, low-latency computing network, Singapore’s infrastructural supremacy is likely to facilitate the growth of its data centre market. 

Singapore’s advantages in infrastructure, as well as its position as an enabler of emerging technologies, will also enable it to power data centres while the Edge of the network becomes more sophisticated. This will include technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality planning and management systems, as well as the increased adoption of Lithium-Ion Uninterruptible Power Systems (UPS) at the Edge. Finally, there is a significant wealth of knowledge in terms of engineering, construction and consulting knowledge that provides a blueprint for incoming facilities in the region.

These features put Singapore in good stead to remain a key regional hub for data centres. However, the data centre landscape also has a strong future-forward character. For instance, the introduction of data centre standards for tropical climates, as well as the emphasis on revamping the market to focus on sustainability, highlight that the country aims to consolidate its position by driving positive change vis-à-vis data centres.

While the policy-pivot away from the data centre moratorium will open new opportunities, developments during the ban could also play out in Singapore’s favour. As demand rose during the stoppage period, an overflow emerged in the two nearshore locations of Johor and Batam. These locations are situated in different jurisdictions and have different routes for connectivity, making them feasible for serving Singapore. The first wave of potential demand will likely come from China-based hyperscalers, who have experienced sustained growth in recent years while having less runway and immediate data centre capacity needs. Though the Johor and Batam overflow markets are still in their infancy, a pipeline of over 800MW is currently in various stages of development. With the average data centre build size at 27.3MW, the market is expected to ramp up steadily.

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