Rethinking sustainable data center with Princeton Digital

Rethinking sustainable data center with Princeton Digital Source: AFP

Rethinking sustainable data center with Princeton Digital Group

  • Princeton Digital Group’s managing director of Singapore Asher Ling shares with Tech Wire Asia the company’s ambitious sustainability targets as it expands its network of data centers across Asia.

One of the highest consumers of electric power are data centers. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the data center industry, Being particularly energy-intensive, accounts for approximately 4% of global electricity consumption and 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To top it off, the carbon dioxide emissions of data centers are comparable to that of the aviation industry.

Fortunately, as demand for the computing power that data Centers provide is growing at an astonishing rate, so are the concerns for environmental sustainability. Now, data center operators are beginning to measure all aspects of their operations in a race to reduce carbon emissions. The good news is that mitigating environmental impact is an effective strategy for data center companies anyways.

One such pan-Asian player, Princeton Digital Group (PDG), has ambitious sustainability targets. The company, established in 2017, has a portfolio of 20 data centers with over 600 MW of capacity across five countries. PDG serves hyperscalers, internet and cloud companies, and financial institutions. It offers scalable internet infrastructure data center services to meet “increasing demand” across Asia.

The bigger goal is that, PDG aims to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2030. The team is currently focusing its attention on issues around the environment and sustainability, with ideas and strategies around green energy and power management. Tech Wire Asia had the chance to speak with Princeton Digital Group’s managing director of Singapore Asher Ling who discussed how data center sustainability is more than just power.

How would you reckon has the data center market fared within this region over the last two years?

Princeton Digital Group (PDG) started about four or five years ago, at a point of time where we saw potential in building a Pan Asia data center. We wanted something that is run by a local management team to understand the nuances of each of the regions and the markets we operate in. At the same time, being supportive and being guided by a very robust headquarter in Singapore.

Also, at that point of time five years ago, we had already seen a massive adoption of cloud technologies but the hypothesis was that we were just at the onset of this entire digitalization revolution. Obviously there were a lot of exciting things that were on the horizon, there were 5G coming up and IoT and machine learning were all very active conversations. Then in the last two years, what Covid did was literally change the entire way we live and it compels us to rethink our mode of living.

What has happened since the pandemic is that the digital transformation that we originally saw, were both accelerated and enhanced, in terms of speed and the way it is being done.  And so the incessant creation of ones and zeros, bits and bytes, it just exponentially exploded. A lot of it was because of digital infrastructures being an enabler point in helping us with our way of living.

As a data center hub in this part of the world, how do you see Singapore being different  from the rest in the region?

So Singapore has very good government policies in terms of business attraction. The Singapore government, over the past decades, has been able to really build up their international standing in the eyes of both the East and the West. Singapore stood as a very neutral, trusted, and robust business environment and it is also geographically well placed, with a very robust education system.

After all, when we run with critical infrastructure, we need talented people from engineers, operators, and professionals that have that mindset, training, and aptitude to be able to operate and function in this kind of environment. Singapore basically provides all that.

When we speak about data center sustainability, when exactly did you find the tipping point in the Asia Pacific region? 

So I think the world came together about three years ago, where all the leaders of different developing and developed countries came together, making a commitment on what they want to do to make a livable sustainable future for our next generation. Since then, we have started seeing a lot of competition on ESG, among governments and businesses.

For Princeton, where does the company stand in terms of a sustainable data center?

So we started on our sustainability journey about 12 to 18 months ago. We launched our first sustainability report for this year. Since we are operating in five different cities; Singapore, India, China, Indonesia, and Japan, each of these markets has very different regulations.

So when we embarked on this journey in Princeton, we laid and planned strategies with some of the key pillars that we have. Then with that, we set the ultimate big, audacious goal of by 2030, all our data centers will need to be powered by renewable energy in one form or another. Now, obviously, we don’t know how to get there, but we have embarked, we’ve started on this.

Since Princeton is generally dealing with few governments, what are some of the standpoints of different countries in terms of sustainable data centers?

Different governments have different strategies and more often than not, their thought process is fairly complex. But I would approach it from a data center industry, from our lifecycle standpoint. So for me, there are kind of like four steps of a dataset lifecycle. From the point we design a data center, we need to be very mindful of these principles of ensuring sustainability. Because designing it, anyone can design a data center, but very often we don’t take into consideration the operational part of the life cycle.

Often, we want to do it in a way that is the fastest, quickest, cheapest. Now, we can look at newer technologies that can help us have a longer life cycle. The second part of the design is when you build, some of the things we challenge our partners, or our contractors is what kind of materials are you using? Are you using environmentally friendly materials?

For example in Japan, we are considering setting a benchmark standard for our first year there, perhaps starting with our building’s carbon footprint, so we constantly challenge ourselves, our contractors, and our development partners to achieve things in the most sustainable manner. At the operational front, we’ve always been very focused on efficiency.

Does that mean in  every country that you are in, sustainability is already your first approach in terms of setting up your operations?

Yes, we have a green first strategy, so for every new market, with our latest being Japan, a lot of our conversations is about finding more green energy and going forward from thereon. I believe this trend will become something that most serious data center operators will gravitate towards a strategy. I don’t think it’s something unique to us.

Of course, at the end of the day it is all about what the client needs are and what our needs are. So that’s why I believe that there will be a gravitation or a pivoting of how one thinks about data center lifecycles.