As business digitalisation accelerates, data and applications to store and process it grows in importance but can be expensive. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may find outsourcing their data housing to professionally managed data centres is the most cost-effective approach.
Tapping this market, Hong Kong-based OneAsia Network Limited is building data centres in Thailand, Japan and Korea to augment existing facilities at home and in Mainland China.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) facilitated these expansion projects, winning praise from OneAsia for supplying “a white cane for the blind”, providing solid support for enterprises making forays into new markets.
Sights on Asia-Pacific
Providing data centre services and cloud solutions, OneAsia offers a full range of digital infrastructure, management and application software services to businesses of all sizes. Its interconnected data centres across the Asia Pacific keep customers connected at any time and from anywhere.
Set up in Hong Kong in 2009, the firm has capitalised on the city’s advantages as an international business hub. The many regional headquarters and offices of multinational corporations in Hong Kong generate great demand for data centre facilities and services that support the growth of businesses in the mainland and Asia overall. Robust telecommunications infrastructure, free flow of Information, strong data privacy protection regime and proximity to the huge mainland market rank Hong Kong as a first-tier data-centre market, attracting the interest of international investors, operators and users.
The company has been committed to building an extensive regional network of interconnected data centres radiating from its Hong Kong hub – a vision reflected in its name, OneAsia Network.
"An operator with data centres in different cities [in Asia-Pacific] can help meet the business development needs especially of customers with regional business operations,” Charles Lee, company founder and CEO said.
Expanding into Thailand
Having set up top-tier-rated data centres in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Nantong in Jiangsu province, OneAsia has selected Thailand for its first data centre outside Greater China.
"Data centres require plenty of land and electricity and Thailand is one of the few Southeast Asian countries with advanced telecommunications." Mr Lee said.
To set the ball rolling, the company sought assistance from the HKTDC, which draws on its extensive global network to facilitate deals and investment across the world. The HKTDC’s Bangkok Office swiftly introduced the firm to the Thai real estate market and recommended relevant parties, including reliable telecommunications companies, lawyers, accountants and headhunters.
"The HKTDC introduced us to Hong Kong chambers of commerce in Thailand and helped us understand the local business environment,” Mr Lee said. “They also provided valuable suggestions and market information free of charge, and connected us with business contacts and potential partners. All this complemented our research work and provided great help during the initial groundwork stage.”
The project progressed rapidly and the firm acquired a site for the data centre less than a year after it first contacted the HKTDC.
Overseas company can usually hold no more than 49% of a piece of land or an enterprise in Thailand but OneAsia secured 100% of the data-centre site and holding company, with the assistance of the Thailand Board of Investment, which the HKTDC introduced to OneAsia.
The facility represented a US$90 million investment, Mr Lee said. "The data centre is expected to be completed at the end of the fourth quarter of 2022. With an area of 20,000 square meters, it will definitely rank among the top 10 data centres in Thailand."
For OneAsia’s data centre projects in Japan and Korea, the HKTDC provided similar one-stop consultancy and support services, especially for land acquisitions and market studies. In Japan, the HKTDC also introduced OneAsia to local banks and investors for financing.
Mr Lee described the HKTDC as “a white cane for the blind” that enables enterprises to gain a good understanding of unfamiliar markets.
OneAsia hopes to expand its data centre business into Vietnam, Malaysia, India and Australia. "We expect the HKTDC to continue to play an active role in our expansion, accelerating our entry into new markets," Mr Lee said.
Work from home spurs demand
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged many companies but it has presented opportunities to others, including OneAsia.
Mr Lee said the rise of the "home economy" led enterprises to seek digital infrastructure services from OneAsia to support work-from-home.
The IT solutions expert, who is also Chairman of the Hong Kong Data Centre Association, believes the city’s data centre sector has a promising outlook despite challenges from regional competitors.
"Hong Kong is an international financial centre where many financial institutions need to build digital infrastructure. As a data network hub with submarine telecommunications cables connecting the city to the rest of the world, coupled with a large IT talent pool, a sound legal system and the advantage of being less prone to natural disasters, Hong Kong has great potential to become Asia’s data hub,” Mr Lee said.
Noting that data is gold for today’s business community, he said Hong Kong’s innovation and technology “soft power” can be strengthened if the government encourages mainland enterprises to store data in the city and establishes a data exchange centre to promote big data analysis and application, helping different industries and enterprises in technology research and development, market research and business development.
Mr Lee also noted the emergence of the “data economy”, in which digital data is constantly being produced, distributed and consumed for profit.
"The data economy is definitely a business trend for the future and all companies will need to undergo digital transformation, which will involve a lot of resources,” Mr Lee said, adding that it would be great if SMEs with relatively limited resources could be supported in digital upgrading and transformation.
Little wonder, then, that the HKTDC’s T-box (Transformation Sandbox) programme has been well received by the business community. The free-of-charge programme helps SMEs enhance competitiveness through upgrading and transformation in the areas of branding, e-commerce, manufacturing and supply chain solutions and new markets.