The future of data centers in Thailand depends on deregulation and government acting only as catalyst and not directly investing in the sector, a conference heard.
TCC Technology and C-ASEAN hosted a seminar on the future of the data center in Bangkok, with many tech sector speakers calling for a hands-off light touch approach when it came to regulation followed by an afternoon session of financial market regulators that showed a high level of risk aversion and a clear mistrust of public cloud.
Wong Ka Vin, managing director of 1-Net Singapore, credited Singapore’s success in data centers to deregulation of its telecoms sector and how the government paid off Singapore Telecom to end its concession early in the 90’s. The country’s leaders realised early on that Singapore’s success was due to it being a shipping hub and thus a conscious effort was made to make it a hub of the digital era.
Wong was involved in a study to build large data centers in the region in the late 90’s. After building what became Equinix Singapore, Wong said that everyone expected the next hot spot to be Thailand. The country had a rapidly growing economy and was the second country in the region after Hong Kong to host an Internet Exchange.
However, none of that happened.
William Wai, director of hkcolo.net said that Hong Kong’s success in its digital economy was also due to a lack of regulation and healthy competition. Hong Kong started on the road to deregulation in the mid-nineties and by the end of the decade had fully deregulated its telecom market, bringing in many new operators with competition helping the consumer.
But unlike Singapore where deregulation was a conscious decision, Wai said that the Hong Kong government had long focused on free trade and light touch regulation in every sector.
“Governments should not invest in data centers, but should help the industry grow by attracting different enterprises and financial institutions across the region,” he said.
Wai warned that direct government investment in infrastructure or data centers would ultimately lead to protectionism and it was best left to the market to meet these demands.
Kosit Suksingha, managing director of TCC Technology in Thailand, joked that Thailand had a lot to say about the digital economy but there was little to show for it. However, he questioned if massive data centers in Thailand were even necessary.
“The fact that we are late in the game, it doesn’t mean we have to follow the idea of building a large data center and they will come. I ask if there is a need. If we have good interconnection at cheap prices, let them burn electricity in Hong Kong or Singapore,” he said.
Later John Duffin of the uptime institute warned that while a data center outage today is just about money, sooner or later a failure will kill somebody and that is when governments will enforce regulation just like they have in the airline industry.
Duffin tried to explain a maze of standards that companies now face. For instance for power efficiency there is the US LEED standard and the Singapore Greenmark standard. Greenmark is very focused on PUE (power usage effectiveness) while LEED is more about the general data center. It is possible to design for both. Why would someone want to design their Asian data center to a US standard? Many US companies looking to host in Asia would need to select a LEED certified DC as part of their corporate social responsibility commitments.
The concept of PUE (energy in to energy used at the devices) is simple, but ASHRAE, the standard on how to properly measure PUE, is 68 pages long.
Another confusing part involves annexes to standards. Anyone can add an annex to a standard to include information. One example is TIA-942 about designing white space in a data center. TIA 942 is an annex. It is not a standard, it cannot be certified and a lot of it is not even relevant today.
Another is ANSI/BICSI 002 which is a best practice. Many people see the word ANSI and think it is a standard, but it is not and it is not something that is certifiable.
In the afternoon session Dr. Pansak Siriruchatapong, vice-chairman of Thai state-owned CAT Telecom, spoke of the need for government to bridge the digital divide and provide government services. He said that central government can help create demand and create a market for data centers. This government has a plan to create hubs and clusters of smart cities.
What the government needs to do is ensure that there is enough fiber to feed these remote data centers, he said.
Pansak said that the e-Government Agency will set standards for data center certification in Thailand as well as set minimum service level agreements for e-government services.
The final panel was from a number of users in the financial regulatory space with representatives from the Securities Exchange Commission, the Bank of Thailand and the Stock Exchange of Thailand alongside the carrier neutral BKNIX exchange.
Kumpol Sontanarat from the SEC runs active-active data centers with 99.99% availability and yet that is sometimes not enough. He is now looking at three tiered backups with one of them not in the country.
Kumpol said that one major concern of cloud computing was jurisdiction - when there is a problem, which law would any claim be based under?
Duangkaew Crinon from the Bank of Thailand runs BahtNet, the inter-bank clearing house. However, her requirements are quite modest - just 99.9% availability for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
“If you can take a day of downtime, you do not need a computer room, all you need is a server in an air-conditioned room. If you can fallback to paper, you don’t either,” she said.
Commercial banks looking at using cloud must ask permission from the Bank of Thailand. Currently, BOT does not let any personal information leave the country. So what is there that can be put in the public cloud? She said with a giggle that they can put their office work such as internal evaluation in the cloud.
Sakuna Panyaviwat from the Stock Exchange of Thailand said that the SET had done a comprehensive study of what data is critical and what is of lesser importance that can be put in the cloud. She said that the allure of the cloud was when there was need for a project that simply cannot wait for the construction of new facilities.
The SET has its critical infrastructure in three redundant geographically separate data centers that can survive another great flood of Bangkok, should it happen, she said.
Chaya Limchitti from BKNIX said that while everyone was focusing on redundancy of servers and power, what BKNIX offered was redundancy in connectivity, being a carrier-neutral exchange. BKNIX also offers a Verisign root name server in the country.
He also touched on standards and how the current obsession with lead free electronics was leading to equipment that was much more sensitive to humidity and dust. Lead is very inert and the phasing out of lead is affecting reliability, he noted.