The head of one of Hong Kong’s few homegrown data centre networks is not afraid to call out “irrational excitement” when he sees it, even within his own industry, as the chief executive of BDx Data Centres proved in Thursday’s spotlight interview with MTD TV.
In a one-on-one chat with Mingtiandi founder Michael Cole, BDx chief executive Braham Singh discussed how the startup is building its regional data centre network as a unit of US fund manager I Squared Capital, while at the same time keeping a close watch on potential market bubbles as institutional cash floods the still-nascent sector.
During the third session in Mingtiandi’s Asia Data Centre Forum 2021, sponsored by Yardi, Singh touched on the hurdles encountered while expanding a regional network amid the COVID-19 crisis, the parallels between the data centre and flexible office booms, and the benefits of providing edge facilities and ancillary space to hyperscalers while also serving corporate enterprises managing hybrid networks.
Overcoming the Pandemic
“We expected to get back to normal this year, that was the plan,” Singh said. “Of course it’s been nothing of the sort. Even after spending 70 days in quarantine over the past 12 months, I’ve been unable to visit all our construction sites, I’ve been unable to visit my key customers, something I would do as par for the course.”
Singh heaped praise on BDx’s team members for their ingenuity and grit during a period of unprecedented obstacles thrown up by the pandemic.
“Thankfully for us, our in-country design and build teams are brilliant and they’ve performed miracles, so our construction goes on,” the CEO said, adding that he’s been using technology to remotely inspect sites in China, Indonesia, Singapore and elsewhere.
Singh described BDx’s core expertise as buying data centres from telecom operators and fine-tuning them as needed. For the SIN1 facility in Singapore’s Paya Lebar area, for instance, that meant doing nothing more than increasing the existing capacity.
“By and large, what we do is bring all these data centres and then connect them back into our central intelligence, so that the AI platform can do some sort of predictive health check on them on an ongoing basis, because they are older assets in some cases,” he said.
Singh is particularly keen on BDx’s 360 app, which lets smartphone users — even non-clients — monitor power consumption, receive real-time data on temperature and humidity, and track other vital signs for network equipment through a live dashboard.
On a cautionary note, Singh highlighted what he sees as the imbalance between the amount of funds flowing into the data centre sector and the limited number of assets available for acquisition.
“The problem is that this money is being used to leverage valuations and sell off data centres, rather than sell racks,” he said, referring to the ultimate need for a data centre operator to lease server space to end-users.
With assets being acquired at rising multiples and leasing rates for rack space continuing to fall, Singh predicts market corrections in some Asian territories — he singled out Navi Mumbai as a likely bet — with the field eventually being left to dedicated players like BDx after speculators are weeded out.
He drew a comparison between data centre buzz and the flexible office boom of a few years ago, citing the case of established player Regus (now IWG) versus the meteoric rise and fall of WeWork.
“In the data centre industry today, we have a lot of Reguses who are doing their job, meeting the demand of their telco partners, meeting the demand from their enterprise customers, meeting the demand from the hyperscalers,” he said. “That’s the only thing they’re good at and that’s what they do … as long as they run their business prudently, like Regus does, they’ll do fine.
“And then you have the WeWork analogy, the people in the data centre business who are there for speculative purposes, who are built around hype, who — I don’t want to sound rude — but who don’t have the ability, who have not bothered to build that expertise to run a data centre efficiently.”
You can watch the full interview above.
Sustainability in Focus
The spotlight turns to environmental matters in next week’s instalment of Mingtiandi’s APAC Data Centre Forum 2021.
With controlling energy consumption and meeting carbon targets among the biggest challenges for data centre operators and investors, a panel discussion featuring PDG executive vice president Chris Street, BDx chief operating officer Jeremy Yew, JLL senior director Andrew Green and Baker McKenzie partner Ean Mac Pherson on 14 September will be dedicated to exploring how the industry is creating greener server facilities.
On 23 September, the final session in this year’s forum will focus on the region’s largest market, North Asia. That discussion of opportunities in Greater China, Korea and Japan will feature BDx vice president and CEO for Greater China Bill Gao and Thomas Liu, a partner with Actis who has led the UK fund manager’s data centre investments in Greater China and Korea.