Local Datacentres: Ask Not What TNB Can Do For You But What You Can Do For Yourselves

As much as 50-percent of a data centre’s operating costs, could be tied up in power consumption according to AIMS Data Centre’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mohammad Azman Abdul Rahman. In Malaysia, this is an especially sore point for many local data centre players as they struggle to survive on very thin margins, and ultimately move up the value chain and away from just providing hardware and infrastructure.

The popular belief is that Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) should reclassify the DC industry as a high-growth sector like manufacturing, and make it eligible for lower electricity tariffs.

Azman said, “It is the new industrial economy and there is case for the industry to lobby (for reclassification).”

But, with electricity tariffs due to increase overall anyway, this reclassification may achieve nothing in the end.

Mohammad Azman

Mohammad Azman

The road so far…

“There has been a one-dimensional point of view about data centres up to this point. We have always looked at TNB as the be all and end all.”

In his opinion the MDCA or the Malaysian Data Centre Association, while they are exploring engineering innovations like water-cooled servers and have proposed ETOU tariff models, there isn’t significant headway.

As long as there isn’t market acceptance of an engineering innovation or an all-encompassing tariff which would reap cost benefits for the whole industry, all efforts would just come to naught.

Azman said, “MDCA doesn’t talk enough about things we can do ourselves to improve power consumption.” He also admits a large number of MDCA members can’t do the necessary investments to make this happen.

But, reducing power consumption costs is still possible. And AIMS is living proof that this can happen.

Best practices for a costly, power-hungry sector

“When TNB raised power tariffs, the industry said they would absorb the costs. Customer contracts simply do not provision for tariff increase,” Azman pointed out.

In short, managing customers and charge backs are not done in a good and/or fair manner.

Data centre players could do more to protect themselves in terms of investing in equipment that measure power consumption.

“Currently, this is being done manually, and at rack-level. So, an SLA may be that 1.5kilowatts is provisioned, but the customers’ servers may end up using more than agreed upon in contract,” Azman pointed out.

Also, not all software applications are created equal; what if a particular application is using up more power than the average application? Clearly, this scenario has to be provisioned for in contracts, and if need be, the software development ecosystem have to be more mindful about creating energy-efficient apps.

Then there is the fact that energy efficiency equipment like UPS (uninterruptible power supply and power distribution units (PDUs) are expensive.

“Equipment that are eight to 15 years old are inefficient and would impact service levels ie. using more units of power than usual.  But local players may not have the money to reinvest into these power equipment,” said Azman.

The gist however, is that it’s time to put all on the table and not just harp around TNB and what it can do for the industry.

Industry advancements

It may not be a well-known fact in the industry that servers manufactured today can run at much higher temperatures than usual.

Azman observed, “It used to be servers have to be kept at temps of 22 degrees celcius. But now, 27-32 degrees celcius is also possible.”

The hurdle here is lack of awareness as customers still specify 22 degrees as the absolute requirement. Market acceptance for higher temperatures opens up more cooling possibilities like using free night air to keep servers cooled.

“Something like this needs research done, with the hardware people and also the industry collaborating to create market awareness,” said the COO.

He alluded to a similar study being done by the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) a few years ago. “But, it hasn’t translated into actionable info, and there is no tangible result at this point, to speak of.”


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