The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) came into effect this year, establishing the world's largest economic circle and promoting regional trade and investment.
The RCEP launched at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the digital transformation of enterprises with corresponding growth in areas such as online shopping, e-sports, cloud computing and financial technology. What’s more, the development of the metaverse and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is expected to greatly increase demand for data infrastructure, storage and transmission in the region.
With this growth potential in mind, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) has been helping Hong Kong-based data centre operator OneAsia Network to set up bases in Thailand, Japan and Korea. The firm has plans to establish data centres in the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia in the next three years to make its business even more comprehensive, building connectivity among RCEP countries and regions.
In the quest for carbon neutrality, OneAsia Network will try out new technologies to improve efficiency by the end of this year with the goal of reducing electrical and mechanical power consumption by 70-80%. It will also work with partners to explore the feasibility of using renewable energy solutions.
Charles Lee, Founder and CEO of Legan Group and OneAsia, said the RCEP promotes global economic growth, which in turn will boost investment in data centres in the region. When the company started out, the goal was to establish a complete regional network infrastructure. “We will achieve the goal in three stages: first set up sites in Hong Kong and the mainland, then enter Thailand, Japan and South Korea, and then expand to the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.”
Mr Lee said companies have been generally affected by the pandemic over the past two years, but the situation has improved significantly in the latest quarter. "Individuals and businesses are more accustomed to using various types of information technology, software and applications; and businesses are also aware that a good digital infrastructure is beneficial for future business development,” he said.
Digital fast track
Mr Lee said that over the past 10 years, the ratio of Hong Kong customers to multinational enterprises in his company's data centres had jumped from 4:6 to 6:4, showing that more and more small and medium-sized enterprises are moving towards digitalisation, which is creating a high demand for data infrastructure, storage and transmission services.
“Whether its online shopping, e-sports, virtual banking, remote education and consultation, or even the metaverse and NFTs, none of it can happen without data centre services. We expect that demand from local customers in Asia will continue to grow and the industry's development prospects are bright,” he said.
Mr Lee, who is also the chairman of the Hong Kong Data Centre Association, said that while there were many market opportunities, numerous challenges remained. "When the industry is profitable, it will naturally attract new investors to join, but the industry has a relatively high threshold and requires very professional knowledge, so the competition is not very fierce,” he explained.
Strong demand for data centres in the global market meant countries all over the world have been welcoming them to invest. "However, this is an industry that consumes a lot of electricity and, to a certain extent, it is bound up with the acceleration of global carbon-emissions reduction. We can solve the problem in two ways: by improving efficiency and exploring new energy sources.”
OneAsia is set to test an immersion cooling system that reduces electrical and mechanical power consumption by 70-80%. "We will also discuss with our partners the feasibility of using renewable energy such as solar power and seawater power in the data centre," Mr Lee said.
Busan data centre
Established in 2009, OneAsia provides data centre, network connection, cloud management, digital infrastructure services and information technology solutions for enterprises. It has more than 500 employees and more than 500 customers. Covering Europe and the United States, Asia, the mainland and Hong Kong, and supplying services for government and public institutions, banking, insurance, telecommunications, public transport, mass media and other institutions, the company has seen its turnover grow by double digits every year.
OneAsia currently has business bases in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Nantong. The data centre in North Bangkok (main picture) will go into service by the end of this year, while new centres in Busan and Greater Tokyo are tentatively scheduled to be completed in the second quarter of 2024 and the fourth quarter of 2024, respectively. The company is also preparing to build data centres in the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, including data collection and business expansion.
The new centres will help the firm get a better understanding of the business environment in various places and make the right choice for the location. OneAsia expects the projects will be fully completed within three years.
Mr Lee said the assistance provided by the HKTDC removed various obstacles and difficulties and made it possible to accelerate the company’s overseas expansion plans.
"We are very grateful to the HKTDC for their assistance along the way. Representatives from the offices of the HKTDC are familiar with the industry situation and our needs, so they can help us solve problems, whether it’s buying land, recruiting or seeking professional services such as legal, financial and even legal services. For construction works, the HKTDC have provided us with practical advice and recommended suitable companies, freeing us up to deal with other matters.
"Construction of a data centre requires a lot of land and electricity, and it must be close to the connection point of the submarine fibre-optic cable to ensure the information can truly ‘go to sea’ and connect with the world, including Europe and the United States. Taking South Korea as an example, we chose Busan not only because it is the second largest city, but also because it is a major submarine cable hub. For the same reason, Hong Kong is an economic and trade hub, as well as an international financial centre, bringing together global enterprises. Coupled with the global cable connections, it is an ideal data centre. Even if we expand our overseas business, we will not ignore the investment in Hong Kong and continue to use Hong Kong as our headquarters.”
Mr Lee said many of its customers trusted the company because it has invested heavily in protecting customer data through network security, corporate governance and crisis management
“The most important thing is to do a good job in network security. In addition to regularly updating firewalls and anti-virus software, we also set up a 24-hour security centre. A virus intrusion can be dealt with immediately to fight any network attack.
“We also have a rigorous corporate governance system and code of conduct to be followed and tested repeatedly when launching new software to ensure the security and stability of the system. In addition, we will review the security system every year, and we also have crisis management drills to anticipate response measures and backup plans," Mr Lee said.