Green Data Centres with SpaceDC

Colin Eddison, Carolyn Harrington & Nick Stavroulakis | 21 September 2021 | 38:22

Podcast Transcript: Green Data Centres with SpaceDC

Hi – I’m Maria Rampa – welcome to this episode of Engineering Reimagined.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit globally, reliance on the internet and cloud storage grew exponentially. Internet users alone have increased by more than 250 million people in the past year.

This growth in demand has led to the need for expanded data centre infrastructure to store the increasing amount of data being generated online. With this has come opportunities for data centre developers, owners, designers and providers to expand to more markets and incorporate leading-edge technologies in data centre design. It has also brought many challenges, particularly around how to make data centres, which consume 10 per cent of the world’s energy and contribute 3 per cent of carbon emissions to our environments, more sustainable.

Despite ongoing COVID uncertainty, or perhaps because of it, Southeast Asia experienced an 11 per cent increase in online users in 2020, making it one of the world’s fastest growing internet markets, worth approximately $105 billion.

In this episode, Colin Eddison, Technical Director, Buildings, at Aurecon in Singapore speaks with data centre provider SpaceDC’s Chief Operating Officer, Carolyn Harrington, and Chief Technology Officer, Nick Stavroulakis, about the opportunities and challenges in establishing much needed data centres in this booming online data region.

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Colin Eddison: Good morning, Nick. Morning, Carolyn. Welcome to the Engineering Reimagined podcast. Aurecon is your host, it's lovely to have you here. Nick and Carolyn, you've come from different places and pathways to be here in Singapore working for SpaceDC, but starting with you, Carolyn, your background’s in establishing and growing companies. And what brought you to work for a data centre startup in Singapore in Southeast Asia? 

Carolyn Harrington: Yeah, thanks for having us on the podcast, it's really awesome to be invited. So this is my fourth startup. So apparently, I'm a glutton for punishment and don't want a job where I just go home at night and see my family. But this isn't my first data base startup, I still actually own a data analytics company so I understand data. And I understand the importance of it. And I can see the growth in Asia, because obviously, SpaceDC purely focuses on Asia, so from India, all the way down from Australia, up to China. So I understand the growth of data in this region. And I could see it as a really good opportunity. And a great way to move to Asia and use my skills in startups and also my knowledge of data and the growth. And it was just a really exciting time, because you could see the industry was about to take off, even before COVID. 

Colin Eddison: And Nick is a fellow mechanical engineer, good stuff for a start, you've come from a background in consulting and, working across a range of sectors, transport, health, education, commercial and, and obviously, data centres as a consultant. What inspired you to take the leap onto the exciting world of data centres from the client side and here in Singapore? 

Nick Stavroulakis: It was just a really good opportunity, really. So data centres was kind of my favourite type of engineering really. So having the opportunity to come here and focus solely on building data centres. And as far as an engineering role goes, it's big toys isn't it, like big generators, big power. So from an engineering perspective, it's a great role. And then just to come to Asia, broaden the horizons a little bit rather than just working in Melbourne forever. And rather than working for someone else, being able to drive our own destiny and build the data centres that we want to build that make a difference. 

Colin Eddison: Carolyn COVID-19, pandemic's had a pretty major impact on data centres, data services, everything to do with living virtually. And you know, this also rolls into virtual meetings. Teams meetings, Zoom meetings, shopping online, streaming services, of which I spend way too much money on annually, I must admit on sports and entertainment streaming, but it's such a huge part of our lifestyle. 

Carolyn Harrington: You need to let the AFL go. New country, let's move on.  

Colin Eddison: Yeah, so it's a huge part of everyone's life now. And it was a part of everyone's life. But now it's a central part of everyone's life. So what impact do you think that's had on the market and the demand with your customers and with your own strategies in Asia? 

Carolyn Harrington: So as I touched on, before Asia was going to grow anyway, right? When you look at the population, all the population is within Asia, so you will already have an exceptional growth path without this. Also, 5G was always coming, then you've got an incredible amount of really young children coming online, so it was always going to happen. And then you had COVID. So, do people really have a complete understanding of what the impact of COVID on what was already going to happen? I don't think many people know right, I think we're all guesstimating. But I do think and we all know it expedited that requirement. And it's been most impactful, though, for the cloud players, because in Asia, a lot of the companies and so forth were using old proprietary software, legacy software. So you're looking at the cloud players going oh, their growth was always going to be here. But COVID meant that they all had to go to online or else, because everyone had to work from home, no one can do face to face. We've just seen what's happened in India. We've just seen what's happened in Indonesia, the massive lockdown. So I think the real thing that we've seen is a greater increase in B2B opportunities and growth there, then also consumerism, but I think the biggest growth has been in cloud. When you look at things like Zoom, it's absolutely exponential. And the number of internet users coming online, you're looking at an extra 320 million people come online, and then you're looking at the services then that you need to create for them to be able to use that, but it's just been a massive growth. And it will continue, and I think the hyper-scalers and the people that use our services, they can't predict it. And they have to look at it every three months, because they can't actually forecast the growth. And they're all scrambling and trying to predict how it will work. And then you've got the lockdown. And then they've now worked out that you can't just set up in Singapore, you need to go all through Asia. And then how do they do that? And how many data centre operators are there in the emerging countries as well for them to actually put their clouds in? So it's been huge growth, but also opportunity, but also challenges. 

Colin Eddison
: So, we're obviously based in Singapore, we're working regionally. Based on what's happened with COVID. But even prior to that, where were the hotspots? And where are the current hotspots? And countries and even regions within those countries do you see as being a huge growth potential for the SpaceDC and also for the data centre industry at large? 

Carolyn Harrington: So Darren Hawkins, who is the CEO of SpaceDC, it was his brainchild back in 2017, he actually used to run and own company called Area3, I think it's very well known in Australia, it's just got funding purely because of their focus and specialism on data centres. He already was in Indonesia, and he could see the data centre quality and what we're building in Australia, and he forecasted that in 2017. And he's like, I think that's where we need to go. Everyone thought he was crazy, right? And so when we first started, the demand was naturally within Singapore, and it was in Hong Kong, and it was in Japan, right, Japan's always gonna have massive demands, that people would be able to service the emerging markets like Indonesia and the Philippines quite simply and easily from those locations. Now we've got moratoriums, we've got power issues, and then the actual growth in the emerging markets because it's been fueled and pushed by COVID means you can't just serve it from here now you've got a latency issue. So originally, it was the nice comfortable tier ones. But now, people are going into Indonesia. So when we announced SpaceDC's going to Indonesia, people were like wow, you're brave. Don't get me wrong. We were. We were like the fourth data centre. Now, there's 16. So the growth and the opportunity that you're now seeing is exploding all the way through Asia. And as I touched on before, do you have the qualities data centres in the emerging markets, because you can't just put it in those tier one cities? 

Colin Eddison
: And the types of customers will vary based on the countries and Indonesia, where it's a, apparently hundreds of millions of smartphones are being used. 

Carolyn Harrington: People have don't just have one, they have multiple, right. 

Colin Eddison: Jakarta's now, where's the next part of the world? Where do you think a lot of that investment will start to go after Indonesia? 

Carolyn Harrington: So then I think you're looking at other emerging markets. Malaysia will have to be the overflow to Singapore. But then you've got the cloud players all going well, how do I deal with data sovereignty? So I think that's a real challenge for them. But it's an easier place because their head offices are set up here. But I still think they'll have challenges around that. Then you've got the Philippines, it's the next biggest population growth after Indonesia, in terms of coming online, and then Korea is a really untapped market. And I think it's solely owned by the Koreans and you got the Korean telecoms. So there'll be trying to get in there and pry the land and the opportunity out of the Koreans hands.  

Colin Eddison
: So there's obviously growth within existing markets, within new markets. But there's growth also in terms of the technologies that are being hosted on data centres, on the cloud, for your customers. And we're talking about things like smart sensoring, artificial intelligence, machine learning, 5G, as you mentioned, as well. So from a design point of view, Nick, and dealing with, I guess, the scalability of data centres and operations and development, what do you think are the big challenges going forward in this region? 

Nick Stavroulakis: So really, that building at scale, building efficiently and at speed, and then being more sustainable, that's really important to us. And I think really important to everyone, you know, our kids aren't going to thank us in 20 years when global warming is taking over. And we've trashed the world. So a key is really being more sustainable and doing more with less. 

Colin Eddison: From a demand point of view with sustainability, your customers are probably asking for it and asking, driving down power usage effectiveness and data centre efficiency and carbon impact. What do you see is the immediate response to that from a data centre design point of view, and what's happening in the future to respond to your customers’ needs for sustainability? 

Nick Stavroulakis: So you've got Microsoft that wants to be carbon neutral, and then erase their carbon footprint and then AWS and Google have both got similar carbon neutral targets. So I think it's really great that those guys are driving the market, and helping make that the standard. And then making sure that we've got green power. So when we develop the site, it's key to make sure that we can get green power to the site, help our customers with that. 

Colin Eddison: With the green power, and you're working in a lot of emerging markets, where the availability of sustainable power and maybe the appetite for sustainability that we all kind of almost take for granted living in Singapore and coming from Australia. But how do you deal with the challenge in an emerging market with trying to bring in what is effectively a first world sustainability strategy? 

Nick Stavroulakis: It's interesting. So some people very much care about the environment and care about being green, others are a little bit more price driven. So I think it's a balance there, always. But at the end of the day, if you have a more efficient building, a more efficient site and a lower PUE, regardless, whether it is that green ambition from the customer, you know, a lower PUE means less energy usage, so less cost for them at the end of the day. So it addresses both the cost and the green factor. So looking at our transition fuel that we use in Jakarta, we have gas generators, and we can do cogeneration. That interim step whereby there's not enough green power in the grid, it's not accessible. 

Carolyn Harrington: You're also seeing there's a tonne of investment going into data centres. And it's an infrastructure play. And then investing in renewables is an infrastructure play. So when we are working with our investor, you're also coming together and you bringing together two investments that they're working on at the same time. So our goal is when we build a new data centre with the investor, we've also already bought renewable energy partner that they've invested in at the same time, because I think that's really key. 

Colin Eddison: Just going back to what we're talking about earlier in terms of growth, from data demand, and the new technologies that are driving a lot of that. One of the things I talked about was operations. And so the people who run these data centres, unfortunately, they're not fully autonomous there's ah, still requires a human being to keep these things going and to build them and maintain them. So from your point of view, the talent problem that certainly, it's a problem even in Singapore, but it can be a big problem across the region. What sort of trends are you finding for finding the right talent in these emerging markets? And where do you think it's going as well? 

Carolyn Harrington: So I think the talent shortage is just global, for data centres. And then you have to look at where you’re going into an emerging market, right. It's difficult. And so you look at the fact that there's all these people rushing into Jakarta. So where are they getting all of their skill set? Stop calling my team! I know you're calling them, they tell me! Anyway. So you have to really be specific on, and that's what Nick's team does on design, right? We kind of do a concept and analysis of what the skill sets like there. So what do we design in our data centre to eliminate risk, or human error, which is what a lot of the design process is for data centres, right? How can you eliminate human error, but we design it based on the skill set that's in the market. And then we hire the skill set. But then we have a very structured system and format to bring the team that's on the ground, up to speed. So in all businesses, not data centres, you have to look at the key roles that you're hiring, and what they need to bring, so they can upskill the other people in the team. But it's a challenge. And it's a challenge in all markets. 

Colin Eddison: Carolyn, how are customer needs changing in terms of design, in the way that you're attracting customers as well. And how are they changing and what will this mean for data centres in the future? 

Carolyn Harrington: Yeah, there's a couple of ways they’re changing. Firstly, their ramps changing, right before they go, Ah, take one or two megawatts now. Now they're like, I want 10. I want 15. You know what I mean, they're building quite defensively. So that's changing. And then their technology's changing, right? So when you're designing, and you're designing specifically for the hyper-scalers, you need to understand their technology. How do you build it so that they can put their own design in and you don't waste money, and you can reduce the one time cost for them, and still give them the right price in a very competitive market. 

Colin Eddison: Are the types of customers changing as well? I mean, what might have previously been banks and long-established mega businesses, and now you may be talking to guys in their 20s wearing t-shirts and jeans. Is it a changing market for the types of customers? Or are we still seeing the same players? 

Carolyn Harrington: Well, I think we're all in t-shirts and jeans or shorts, because we're at home. I just hope they've got pants on, because you only see top up. So normally the hyper-scalers come through first, there's certain hyper-scalers in the US, and the Chinese hyper-scalers are the market movers. So they're all coming in, and their demands are changing. But now you’re seeing the next tiers coming from international locations going, Oh, hang on, we've got to go into Europe, I mean you're coming from Europe, and America and Australia going, Oh, hang on, we've got to go to Asia, because let's face it, Asia, including India, is where the money is to be made for the next 20 to 50 years. So they've all watched, they've learned they've seen this is where the market’s going. So you're starting to see the next tiers down. 

Colin Eddison: We talked about artificial intelligence and machine learning. And instead of just storing data on a server, now you have supercomputers and peer to peer networks, and, smart networks, and all these things running on data centres that weren't there. How is that affecting the design of these data centres, Nick? 

Nick Stavroulakis: Well, I mean, it changes, doesn't it? Once upon a time, you'd want two sites and one new disaster recovery site, and you actually want to, you know, a good 20, 40 kilometers away, just in case there was an earthquake or whatever it was.  

Colin Eddison: Godzilla attack.  

Carolyn Harrington: Yeah, that's gonna happen. We're just waiting.  

Colin Eddison: Happens all the time.  

Carolyn Harrington: Yeah, it's so annoying,  

Nick Stavroulakis: But the new version of the ability zone, and you've got a few sites, and they all sync up together and work together. And they need to be closer together, because of the latency. And that whole infrastructure or architecture of how IT works really, has completely changed. And I think it will continue to but yeah, it's a completely different architecture to what we're used to. 

Carolyn Harrington:
I think also, like your customers come to you and their requirements are changing because it's being driven by the changing technologies that they're bringing to market because they see an opportunity. But then you have to look at the regulation and legislation in the country. So you can predict what the customers are going to be based on the usage. But also, there's that whole overlay of what's the government mandating. And it's quite interesting in emerging markets.  

Colin Eddison: Nick, we talked a bit about it before, particularly about your Jakarta, natural gas-powered data centre, JAK2. And the demand for green data centres is growing, talked about Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and their own lofty targets for carbon reduction and carbon neutrality. In terms of fuels and other energy sources beyond just natural gas, here do you think the world is going from an energy point of view for data centres in particular? 

Nick Stavroulakis:
I think it's a problem and it's an opportunity all at the same time. So we've got renewables, and we know how to do it. It's now cheaper to build a solar power plant than it is to build a coal fired power plant, which is amazing. Only problem is, it's only sunny for, you know, eight hours a day. And then you know, can't control the wind, tidal same kind of thing, they're all uncontrollable, whereas, a coal fired power plant, you can turn it on and off, and typically you know gas, peaker plant, those kind of things. So, as far as the energy goes, I think the key is the storage of that energy, so pumped hydro, that large scale storage, looking at new battery tech, there's lots of lithium batteries going in, and like grid scale stuff. But lithium batteries, there's like a global crunch on getting batteries, you'd go to buy a UPS, and the UPS only takes three months, but you have to wait six to nine months for the batteries. So I think the most exciting thing is, that energy storage, and then tying that all in together with the renewables and being able to go, Okay, well, we can turn the coal fired power plants off because we can generate renewable energy, and we can store it, and we can deploy it when we want it. And then, eventually, you'd get to a point where, instead of having generators on site, if you've got three days battery storage, because batteries have scaled up, then get rid of the generator, I think that's a tricky one. We're all greening the data centre, but we've still got standby diesel generators, because the only practical way right now to store enough energy on site to be able to run the site when there's a power outage is to do it with diesel. So I think the key on the energy side is how do we store it. And then, the rest of it. So coming up with better ways to cool the data centre, pushing out what we look at as acceptable temperature limits, and humidity limits, and all that helps with reducing the energy that we use. 

Colin Eddison: You talk about renewable energy, say, from a supplier and through a partnership, and also what you can do within the confines of your own site. Where do you think the trend will go for data centre operators, because a data centre is often a very self-reliant building, and that if the power's out, doesn't matter, we've got our own thing on site. So from a renewable point of view, do you think the trend will be more of that, say battery storage and maybe the renewable type things, so solar, will be on site? Or do you think there'll be more trust in those partnerships to have that energy storage, renewable energy off site, and you're just effectively still getting an electrical power connection? 

Nick Stavroulakis: I think it's a compelling reason to come to a site, if that makes sense. So we're starting to see now, when we have a customer come to us, they're actually asking about what the green power is available to the site two years ago, that wasn't something you'd typically see. But now it's quite common, which is really good, because it means that people are thinking about it. So I think to be able to, both have partnerships and be able to bring green power to site, but also being able to have some storage on site. And if you can double up, if you can go Alright, well, here's my energy storage solution, which means that, you're always running on renewables, you're not running on coal overnight. If it then doubles up with your energy storage, if there's a grid outage, you know, it just makes sense. You can kill two birds with one stone, you're doing more with less, and it's better for everyone. 

Carolyn Harrington: I think that till you get big enough parcels of land with good network-rich connectivity, I think it's going to be a problem to do it on your own site. So I do think it comes down to storage. And when you look at people like Tesla and what they're doing, I think they’re one to watch. 

Colin Eddison: Is it Sun Cable the project that's, they're talking about in the Northern Territory where they have a huge…  

Carolyn Harrington: Oh where Atlassian invested.  

Colin Eddison: Yeah. And they run the cable under the water so that central energy sources from really far away that serve really small land constraint places like Singapore, like parts of Indonesia. Do you think that the data centre industry could benefit from those kinds of projects? 

Carolyn Harrington: Definitely, but I have a frustration with the fact that governments are enforcing, you need to be renewable, you need to be carbon neutral, you need to look at your footprint, and you're like, but could you all, as governments around the world talk, because you need a carbon trading scheme, basically. And Australia doesn't just have, or Singapore doesn't just have this one little bit of atmosphere above them. So I think until they all get together and say, let's do a carbon trading scheme and go well, that's how you work. And that's what we deliver. That's my opinion. What do you think, Nick? 

Nick Stavroulakis
: Yeah. But having said that, it's good to see government's actually having carbon targets now. Some are more aggressive than others. And Singapore, I don't think they have a choice but to bring in renewables from overseas, even if you covered all of Singapore, and you know, all of the lakes with solar, you'd get nowhere near where you need to be. So Singapore's really got no choice but to bring in, whether it's from Malaysia, Indonesia, or the really long cable from the Northern Territory. I think it'd be great if that one in the Northern Territory can work and it stacks up economically. But I think projects like that will be, definitely the future in places where we're land constrained. But whether you build the physical cable or whether you do, you know, in effect a virtual cable, and you use solar to make hydrogen and then you ship hydrogen across. So, you know, we will talk about hydrogen as, hydrogen and fuel cells at the moment, if projects start kind of going hand in hand and you can generate real green hydrogen, then, you know, have a virtual pipeline rather than a physical cable, then, bringing all those technologies, and again, it's that sort of energy storage thing, isn't it? So bringing that together, and portable energy storage, because you know, the infrastructure’s there, we extract natural gas and liquefy it and ship it around the world. So we can start doing it with hydrogen. 

Colin Eddison:
What other innovations are you looking at, and do you think the data centre world is looking at, for other ways to reduce carbon, maybe within construction methods, construction materials, and the supply chain? 

Nick Stavroulakis: So prefabricating stuff in the factory is always great, it reduces waste. So rather than you bring all your pipes to site, and you chop them all up, and then you throw away the bits that were left over, because they're not worth taking back to the factory, you do all that in the factory, you've got all your materials there, and you can be a lot more deliberate and use all your resources more effectively. So prefab’s great. So there's lots of things that help the environment, and then also help quality and speed to market. I think bringing all those things together is key. 

Colin Eddison: In terms of climate change, and the impact that will have on your business, not just in terms of rising sea levels, but obviously temperature increases extreme, weather events, flooding is one of the things that obviously data centre designers absolutely fear the most because it turns out they're not supposed to work underwater yet, they’re IT cabinets, but that's another discussion to have, Nick. So what do you think the data centre designers and operators and the industry needs to consider to accommodate what's happening with climate change? 

Nick Stavroulakis: Yeah, so it means that temperatures going up. So you look at everything we do. And at the end of the day there’s a lot of heat rejection. So whether it's your chiller needs to be bigger and have more heat rejection capacity, or your generators need to have bigger radiators on them. It's getting harder and harder, as it gets hotter and hotter. So more reason to reduce the carbon that we're putting in the atmosphere and just the environment as a whole is becoming harsher on us. So having, bushfires that mean, you can't get around and get to site and flooding and all these kind of things. So it does definitely make your site selection a lot more difficult.  

Carolyn Harrington: When you go into new economies. They're like, really do you think it's really the right spot? If you look at somewhere like the Philippines, it's got every natural disaster you could humanly possibly encounter there. So I think it's really tricky from a design point of view, to take that into account, to give customers ease because of that over anxiousness. I'd be anxious as well, they're pretty expensive servers. So to build that in, and then to be able to operate it in a way that, so that there is no problem and you know, in Jakarta, they can't guarantee within four hours, it's not like they're going down the M1 in London, or they're on the Eastern Freeway in Melbourne, right? So that goes back to design, how much fuel do we have on there? So you've got massive emergency response things that you need to do there. And that's why site selection is so difficult in the regions like Asia, and that's constraining the industry as well, because we can't build enough for the appetite.  

Colin Eddison: In terms of innovation in our sector, and not just in design, but in operations and sales. There's a bunch of ways we can bring innovation to what we're doing. But how important do you think engineers are in bringing innovation to our sector? 

Carolyn Harrington
: Oh absolutely. So obviously, I don't do any of the build, and so forth. that's all Nick's baby. And that's all his talent that he brings to the table. But obviously, now I've got the customers. And I've got the account management and so forth. And it's tricky, because I always say, when you move to London, you want to pay a pound and you want to live in Buckingham Palace, right? So sometimes when you're dealing with your customers, they want to live in Buckingham Palace and pay a pound. There's always that tension or that back and forth between sales and ops and the design team. So it's really put back on the engineers to be able to be really initative and solve that problem with a lesser number of how much they spend on megawatts, because we're being squeezed at the pricing side to reduce the price per kilowatt. So I think engineers are definitely key to the success of data centres. Boys you can pay me later. 

Nick Stavroulakis: I think as engineers, we like to, not necessarily gold plate, but we do like to make sure everything's robust and sometimes over engineer. So really, the trick is getting the design right and the engineering right, and innovating where it makes a difference. And making sure that the money that we do spend, we're getting good value. And I think that’s the trick, and that's what makes a really good engineer is those that can look at a problem, you know, be efficient with what they're doing. And then focus on what gives value. And again, that goes hand in hand with sustainability as well. Because if we can be more efficient on materials and costs then it's less resources that we're using. So it helps everyone, helps the bottom line, it helps the environment, it helps everybody. 

Carolyn Harrington: And that also comes down to operating. Right. So the engineers, you know, I go, you've got this much budget, guys, what are you gonna do? So they have the same balancing act that you do at the build side of what do we need to fix? Or what do we need to spend money on? But let's not over engineer because there is a ‘How do I get rid of that risk, risk risk?’ But after a while, does that add value? Right? So it is a balancing act. And that's where you’re seen the innovation from design and operations coming through to balance. 

Nick Stavroulakis: And I think there's, from a data and analytics and as a piece of innovation in itself, I think gone are the days of you go Oh, well, the bearings on that chiller need to get replaced every x hours or x years. And you're actually looking at the performance of the machine and monitoring all the stats of it. And you can predict when something needs to be replaced, rather than just replacing it, because it you know, has to get done every two years. So again, you can predict if something's going to fail early, and then you can prevent that failure. And then if something's gonna last three years instead of two, then you've again delayed that. So looking at both the innovation on both what we build and design, but then also how we monitor and collect data and analyse it, and then tie it together with the operations and the maintenance. That's a big piece of innovation that gets sometimes forgotten. 

Colin Eddison: A successful engineer these days is, is somebody that you say, who can understand the importance of data, analyse data, use that to make intelligent decisions, but also be able to utilise, whether it's programming skills and other things that are changing the way that an engineer works in this industry. It's not just a matter of picking up a local code and designing something the same as last time. So from your point of view, what are you looking for, like the type of engineer that will help your business grow? 

Nick Stavroulakis: Looking at the new crop of graduates they're a lot more tech savvy. And, you give them a problem. And instead of just solving the problem, by working it out, they're like, ah, I made this spreadsheet. And it just does it now, you know, or I coded this thing in Revit. And you just put in the size, you tell it, how much air you need, and it sizes all the ductwork for you, sizes of the cables for you.  

Colin Eddison: How important do you think diversity is in our sector, and as an accomplished woman, entrepreneur, yourself, Carolyn, and I'm just reading off the sheet. 

Carolyn Harrington: I retract everything I said about engineers before. You’re useless, you should all be fired. Anyway, Colin, what were you going to ask? 

Colin Eddison: Seriously. You know, let’s be honest, it's a very male dominated industry.  

Carolyn Harrington: Is it? I haven’t noticed. That's a shock.  

Colin Eddison: What do you think we need to do to strengthen diversity? And personally, you cannot have innovation without diversity of thought and that comes with diversity of people. What do you think we can do to strengthen that diversity and inclusion in this industry? 

Carolyn Harrington: It's about being open to the people that you hire, and seeing an opportunity and, we'll regularly hire someone who mightn’t be from the data centre industry, but they got the core knowledge, and they bring that innovation skill, and that empowerment, and so forth, and you go, great, let's train you up. Because I know that you're going to give me that little bit more to add to the diversity and add to the voice within the company. I was talking to somebody in my team, and they talked about becoming a manager and said, you'll always want to hire someone that's like you because it's easier. But the real trick is to hire someone that's not like you, because you’re already adding to that thought, or that process to the team. So you need to hire someone that doesn't think like you and thinks differently and challenges you, because then you get that diversity of thought. So if you think like that to hire, then you'll naturally get diversity in the team. And that's someone as a manager, just becoming comfortable with having to have difficult conversations or challenging themselves in the way that they think and talk and listening, listening to their team member, because you're hire people, so you can get home to your family at night. Right? Not so you can tell them what to do. 

Nick Stavroulakis: But that's one of the great things about Singapore and Asia as a whole, looking at all the different cultures that are all together, both in Singapore, and then, if you're building and running a data centre in Jakarta. It's great to interact and get their thoughts and work out how they work and learn from them. And they learn from you. 

Carolyn Harrington: And so you've got to really value your people and create a great culture and have that diversity and welcome diversity, because then everyone's empowered to basically just do their job.  

Colin Eddison: Do you think the future is more centralised or decentralised, when it comes to data centres? Will we see more and more things going on the cloud? Or do you think there'll be a point where it tips over and we go back towards more of the old server rack in your office and the big hard drive under your TV or whatever? Do you think there'll be a point? Or do you think it will just exponentially grow? 

Carolyn Harrington: I think everyone goes, I'm gonna put everything in the cloud. I think there's going to be a natural Hang on, I need a hybrid, I need private, and I need cloud players. But I think it will still be serviced in a data centre, the hybrid and private, but it's going to be serviced by companies like AWS, if you look at their new outpost product, which is you can go online, and you go, I want to buy a rack from you and I want this much ISP, like bandwidth. And then, it's like Amazon for your groceries. I think that's why Amazon's doing it, they're predicting there's going to be movement, back to more, I need my own private servers. But I still think that instead of just I'm going to share servers, and just take a bit of a rack. I think that's going back to that. But I perceive that Amazon's already predicted that. 

Nick Stavroulakis: By then I think cloud is going to be more distributed as well. So now we've got a lot of capacity in Singapore, servicing all of Asia. So it'll be a lot of cloud, but the cloud will move into the country that it's in, and then, latency becomes more and more important as well. So there's going to be that growth of stuff at the edge as well. So I think it's all going to grow. And it's going to be that hybrid that we're talking about. 

Carolyn Harrington
: The technology to operate the data centre has AI has a long way to go right, and robots and everything coming in, because skill shortage is going to be a problem and errors, human errors, most of the issues. SLA is brutal. So I think that will be a massive disrupter, too. 

Colin Eddison: One final question for both of you. Final thought, Nick, what will future look like for data centres? 

Nick Stavroulakis: I think everything's changing so quickly. I think it's going to be something we haven't thought of. I think it's all about energy, energy storage, efficiency, and then, adapting to meet the needs of the tech that's going in. We've talked probably more about the data centre and the building, and not so much about what goes into it. So, looking at the evolution of servers, and water cooling, and all these kind of things. So, I think the future is, unknown but exciting. 

Colin Eddison: Carolyn, from your point of view, and maybe adding on to that, what do you think of the big disruptors for the future of data centres as well? 

Carolyn Harrington: I think the disruptors that we haven't seen, are probably the next generation coming through, and what they're going to bring and the innovation they're going to bring to it, right. And I think that we're going to be blown away by the technology that they bring to the design of the building, and to the running and the efficiency of the building. But I also think something that also you should be considered is the systems and the processes that they give you to actually automate and make that designing better and efficient. If you look at Revit, or CAD or the architectural world, it was quite Yeah, you just do this and now with the graduates come out and what they do with the actual software and drive it and make it more efficient and more scalable, and so forth. I think there's a lot of tools that will come out software wise to help disrupt and drive the innovation as well, that we haven't considered. And we haven't seen. But I think also, you’ll look to the cloud players. So data centres, at the end of the day, we can only make them as efficient as we can, it then comes back to the cloud players of how efficient is your technology, how efficient are the service that you bring into the data centre, because it's not just us, it's also our customers. And I think there'll be a disruption about how data centre becomes more of a partnership together with their cloud players, because eventually, I don't think you can build in isolation, and hope you’re cloud player comes in, I think the disruption is also going to be how do those two industries merge together? Because they can't be done in isolation for such a long period of time. 

Colin Eddison: We'd like to thank you both very much for your time and your fantastic insights into the data centre world and where we're going. It's been a really fun and interesting conversation. And hopefully everyone listening has enjoyed it as much as I have.  

Nick Stavroulakis: Oh, thanks for having us.  

Carolyn Harrington: Thanks for having me on. Always a pleasure to work with Aurecon. 

+++++

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Engineering Reimagined! It certainly provided an insight into what’s ahead for data centres in Asia and across the world.  

We’d love to hear your feedback about this episode and our podcast series as a whole, so why not write us a review and tell us about topics you’d like to hear about in the future! You can subscribe to Engineering Reimagined on Spotify or Apple and follow Aurecon on social for updates. Until next time – thanks for listening.  

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Show notes

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Asia, reliance on the internet and cloud storage grew exponentially. “You're looking at an extra 320 million people online, and then you're looking at the services then that you need to create for them… it's just been a massive growth!” says Carolyn Harrington Chief Operating Officer at data centre provider SpaceDC

This increase in demand has led to expanding SpaceDC’s infrastructure within the continent, an emerging market that SpaceDC Chief Technology Officer Nick Stavroulakis says comes with its own set of unique challenges, including meeting customers’ sustainability needs. “Now it's now cheaper to build a solar power plant than it is to build a coal fired power plant, which is amazing. The only problem is, it's only sunny for eight hours a day.”

So, will energy storage provide the necessary backup power for data centres of the future

In this episode of Engineering Reimagined Carolyn and Nick join Colin Eddison, Technical Director, Buildings, at Aurecon in Singapore to discuss the challenges in establishing much needed data centres in one of the world’s fastest growing markets.

Meet our guests

Learn more about Colin Eddison, Carolyn Harrington and Nick Stavroulakis.
Colin Eddison-Aurecon Technical Director, Buildings Mechanical

Colin Eddison

Aurecon’s Technical Director, Buildings Mechanical

Colin is Mechanical Engineer and Green Star accredited professional. He has project managed the development of greenfield data centres in Singapore and Indonesia. Colin also has experience in delivery and design across a range of Sports, Commercial, Public, Telecommunications, Health and Education projects. 
Carolyn Harrington-Chief Operating Officer, SpaceDC

Carolyn Harrington

SpaceDC Chief Operating Officer

Carolyn oversees not only the overall operations of the data centres, but also the business’ commercial arm including sales, customer account management, legal, and marketing. Carolyn has been recognised Portfolio Magazine Singapore, as an accomplished women entrepreneur leading technology-driven companies at the top of the pyramid transforming industries.
Nick Stavroulakis-Chief Technology Officer, Space DC

Nick Stavroulakis

SpaceDC Chief Technology Officer

Nick is responsible for all of SpaceDC’s data centre campuses design and build around the world. He was named among 10 of the best tech leaders at the forefront of the data centre industry by Data Centre Magazine.

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