CoolestDC Pte Ltd (CoolestDC), a spin-off of the National University of Singapore (NUS), is a deep tech thermal, power, performance and carbon management company. They specialize in high performance and efficiency thermal management solutions for electronics and data center industries, including offering extensive engineering and integration services. Digital Realty is piloting an initiative with CoolestDC to use integrated liquid cooled racks to significantly reduce the power & water consumption and carbon footprint and to improve the IT performance. Dr. PS Lee is the Founder of CoolestDC and the Program Director for the Cooling Energy Science & Technology Singapore (CoolestSG) Consortium at the National University Singapore (NUS). His current roles include serving as the Executive Director of Energy Studies Institute, Director of Singapore Energy Center and Director of Center for Energy Research & Technology (CERT). He shares how his CoolestDC team partnered with Digital Realty to pilot commercializing their liquid-cooling solutions.
What do you think about the state of the data center industry at the moment in Southeast Asia, specifically Singapore? What has been the inspiration behind your work?
Singapore currently houses around 60 percent of Southeast Asia’s data centers, consuming almost seven percent of the island nation’s total energy expenditure. This is only expected to increase to 12 percent by the decade’s end. The city-state put a moratorium on data center construction in 2019, citing the “intensive” use of electricity and the environmental strain of heavy water use.
To ensure reliable operation of data center, there is a need for constant temperature and humidity regulation which can be an energy sapping exercise in particular under hot & humid tropical climate—cooling can represent up to 35-40 percent of data center’s total energy consumption. Compounding this, the power densities of servers are getting higher and higher with every new generation, so much so that conventional air cooling is increasingly not sufficient. The motivation behind my work has been to look into how we can make data center cooling sustainable in the Tropics. Solutions include evaporative cooling and variants of liquid cooling including immersion cooling and direct chip liquid cooling. CoolestDC is working to make liquid cooling easy to use and scale while achieving sizeable reductions in cost and energy.
Southeast Asia uses a small share of renewable energy sources. How is the industry in the region handling adopting new technologies that reduce their carbon footprint, like liquid cooling?
Data center players should move away from conservative approaches. Liquid cooling technology is widely used in high-performance, energy-intensive sectors, such as computing and gaming, and long has been considered the preferred solution to effectively cool down heat-intensive CPUs and SSDs. I do not expect the switch overnight.
With concerns about operational complexity and capital costs associated with liquid cooling solutions, data center operators prefer traditional air cooling. Data center players that do not embrace more efficient cooling technologies face greater cost and operational problems in the long term. Industry experts have highlighted that given the rate of growth in data usage and adoption of newest digital technology, air-based cooling will not be sufficient to serve the needs of data centers. At the minimum, existing/brownfield data centers could start by considering solutions that do not require a complete infrastructure overhaul, but that can be integrated with or added to existing infrastructure. I believe that liquid cooling is an overlooked technology that can give enterprises and data center operators in the Tropics a sustainability boost while substantially reducing energy consumption by 20-30 percent and water usage by up to 50 percent.