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India data centre market part two: standardised and efficient

The second of a two part report series looks at the practical challenges and innovations for designing and building data centres in India.

As outlined in the first part of this report, India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world thanks in part to its IT services and business outsourcing sector.

A 2017 whitepaper from India telecoms company Sify, which operates at least six sites in the country with more under construction, predicts that India’s data centre market is expected to touch $4.5 billion by 2018.

The country could eventually become the second-largest market for data centers in Asia-Pacific by 2020. A good proportion of this new capacity is being built by the public sector in response to various digital initiatives. Indigenous private sector colocation providers are also expanding to serve the needs of local companies and foreign cloud services providers. Some of the large public cloud providers such as Google Cloud Platform, AWS and Microsoft Azure have also built capacity in India with plans to scale up in the future.

Challenges and solutions
As with other developing markets (See Future-tech’s Africa data centre reports), factors such as a lack of infrastructure and an unreliable power grid, combined with high humidity and ambient temperatures, introduces additional challenges for designing and building efficient and resilient data centres in the region.

However, innovations in IT, networking and mechanical and electrical equipment design can help to overcome some of these obstacles.

Building Standards – A 2015 report from Lawrence Berkley National Labs (LBNL), Data Center Energy Efficiency Standards in India, identified that a carbon-intensive and unstable grid is driving the need for more efficiently designed and operated facilities in India.

“In India, where coal is the primary source of electricity generation, it is necessary for data centers to adopt sustainable operations. In power-deficit India, energy efficiency offers the following benefits to data centers: (a) increased reliability of electricity supply; (b) reduction in operating costs; and (c) enhanced efficiency in design and operations,” the report states.

However the report highlights that there are few, if any, dedicated energy efficiency data center standards/policies in place in India. The report refers to a number of mechanisms for generalist buildings that might be relevant such as Indian Green Building Council, Energy Conservation Building Code, Star Rating – Standards and Labeling and Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment.

LBNL recommends the introduction of specific energy efficiency standards similar to those in place in Europe and the US, such as the EU Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in Data centers. “The new policy framework for data centres can be a blend of existing energy efficiency programmes rather than a single mechanism to encompass the holistic rating of data centers in India,” the report states.

Modular Designs – So-called prefabricated modular (PFM) designs have some advantages over traditional build approaches in developing markets. Infrastructure can be assembled off-site, usually in another country, and shipped to where it is required. This reduces the need for onsite assembly and for experienced engineers that may be in short supply. However, PFM designs can be as expensive, if not more so, than some conventional designs so they may not be suitable for all deployments. There can also be challenges with delivering truly “at scale” facilities with PFM in developing countries.

India was home to one of the worlds biggest data centers back in 2012 that used some elements of modular design. IBM designed the Tulip Telecom data center in Bengaluru/Bangalore. The site covered more than 900,000 square feet with a potential power capacity of up to 100MW. The facility used IBM’s modular data center technology; up to 20 enterprise modular data centers were used to create the four-tower building.

Connectivity – As with other developing markets, connectivity is an issue outside of the main cities. However some operators are overcoming this by using wireless connectivity. For example data center operator Sify has built an extensive wireless network in rural locations. The company states that it operates one of the largest wireless deployments in the country and manages over 1,000 wireless end points. Emerging wireless technologies such as 5G should also help to address some of India’s connectivity issues in the future as will continued investment in fiber infrastructure.

Renewables and energy efficiency – Some data center operators in India are following the lead of facilities in Western Europe and the US by investing in renewable energy. For example, Indore-based Rack Bank claims to be India’s first carbon neutral data centre. The 35000 square foot site can accommodate up to 800 racks. The company claims to have its own energy park to supply clean energy and makes use of other energy efficiency measures.

As with other developing markets, India’s data center sector faces challenges from lack of infrastructure, power availability and quality as well as access to the right skills. Economic and political issues may also stymie investment.

However, given the maturity of India’s wider IT services sector, and momentum around wider digitalization, it’s unlikely that these factors will have a significant impact on the continued expansion of the country’s data center capacity in the long term. Just as with other regions, demand at the edge driven by mobile devices and eventually the Internet of Things, as well as expansion of core cloud facilities will continue to push demand.

To read part one of India data centres click here.

Future-tech has helped clients with data centre projects at a variety of stages including; feasibility, design, supply chain management and construction, in markets across the European, African and APAC regions. For more information contact us at: