A surge in adoption of artificial intelligence tools is driving demand for computing capacity globally, with growing requirements from tech giants operating generative AI platforms already creating opportunities for data centre operators and investors at the same time that it challenges the infrastructure providers to develop and deploy at Internet speed.
“The scale at which the data center (sector) needs to grow to keep up with the demand of AI is just at a massive scale,” Rangu Salgame, chairman and CEO of data centre operator Princeton Digital Group said in an interview with Mingtiandi on Tuesday.
Salgame noted that even before the debut of ChatGPT in November of last year, Asia Pacific’s data centre industry was set to grow by 23 percent annually through 2028, and estimated that with generative AI transforming the tech landscape, expansion can be expected to jump by at least another 20 percent and could multiply by up to four times in the near term.
Salgame was speaking together with Ellen Ng, co-head of Asia real estate with PDG’s partner, Warburg Pincus, in the opening session of the Mingtiandi APAC Data Centre Forum, which was sponsored by Yardi.
Track Record Required
With AI adoption on the upswing, US data centre operators logged the sector’s biggest quarter ever from April through June, leasing 2.1 gigawatts – an amount equivalent to nearly a fifth of the country’s current capacity, according to equities research house TD Cowen. With PDG expecting a similar expansion in Asia over the next three to five years, the Singapore-based company is working together with Warburg Pincus to scale up its current platform of 20 data centres with 600MW of capacity.
Speaking of the surge in demand driven by the wave of AI requirements, Ng said that data centre operators need to coordinate capital, build teams, develop operating systems and be able to show a track record across multiple jurisdictions in the region.
“Currently, the debt markets are accessible for this asset class despite a higher interest rate backdrop, but in Asia, this is going to be made more complex because we’re operating as a set of very diverse countries, each with a very different operating and financing environment,” Ng told the forum, brought to you by Yardi.
“In the midst of this, the track record of delivery is key when it comes to securing lending and financing from both banks and other capital partners. The ability to demonstrate that we’re able to lease or pre-lease is also key, so the bar is getting higher, but I think it’s all founded on very strong fundamental demand,” she added.
Warburg Pincus co-founded Princeton Digital Group together with Salgame in 2018 and the partners have now established a platform spanning six Asian countries, including Singapore, China, Indonesia, India, Japan and Malaysia.
New World of Leasing
While AI has been a reality for many years, the leap in adoption of ChatGPT and its rivals such as Google Bard and Amazon’s Bedrock has surprised industry veterans and driven leasing to levels beyond previous predictions.
In the past, large data centres in Asia Pacific might have ranged from 10 to 20 megawatts, Salgame said, however, the new level of requirements driven by AI is pushing developers to build campuses with capacities of 100 megawatts or more.
To meet this new scale of requirements, PDG over the past year has been investing in larger campus-style projects, including their flagship 100MW complex in Tokyo where the company just topped off the first phase late last month.
In May, the firm had announced its acquisition of a site in Malaysia’s Johor state, across the border from Singapore, where it has mapped out a 150MW hyperscale campus.
“That (AI-driven data centre demand) is only going to multiply in terms of the scale and also in terms of locations. The region we are in, we have so much of the world’s largest digital economies, as well as the GDP growth we are experiencing in this side of the world – we will see a lot more happening in terms of scale, size and across the depth of the market here,” Salgame said.
Globally, $1 trillion in capital needs to be invested in data centres over the next four years to meet AI requirements, Salgame added, citing estimates by Nvidia chief executive Jensen Huang in May of this year.
“That’s a massive amount of investment that’s going to go into data centers, about $250 billion per year,” Salgame noted. “A large part of it is going to be the physical data centers that operators like us build, so $1 trillion over four years – compare that to what happened in the last wave of our growth, which was all driven by cloud and is still going on, and that investment took about 15 years to happen, and we are going to see that in AI in the coming four years.”
More Hyperscale on the Way
Following Tuesday’s interview with PDG and Warburg Pincus, more exploration of the development of hyperscale demand in Asia is on the way on Thursday, 7 September, as executives from JLL, Logos and Baker McKenzie join a fresh discussion on Mingtiandi’s MTD TV video platform.
In an hour-long panel session at 10:00 AM Hong Kong time that day, Mingtiandi will speak with Rachit Mohan, APAC lead for data centre leasing with JLL’s capital markets team; Paul Dwyer, head of data centres with developer and fund manager Logos; and Mandy Lan, a special counsel with Baker McKenzie who specialises in alternative asset classes, to gain further insights into who is leasing data centre capacity around Asia Pacific, and how they are doing it.
The forum will continue next week with a panel dedicated to the Southeast Asia data centre market, after countries including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines saw a surge of data centre projects announced over the last year.
Leading that discussion on 12 September is Zhang Yi, joint venture director for Asia Pacific at EQT-backed data centre operator EdgeConneX; together with Si Pei Lee, business development manager for data centres at French energy specialist ENGIE Southeast Asia; and Ai Leen Tang, a partner with Baker McKenzie member firm Wong & Partners in Malaysia.
Also next week, Mingtiandi’s APAC Data Centre Forum will take a look at the Japan and Korea markets on Thursday, 14 September at 10:00 AM Hong Kong time.
In that North Asia session, Mingtiandi will be speaking with Diarmid Massey, CEO for Data Centres at ESR; Bob Tan, an executive director with the data centre practice group with JLL’s capital markets team; Patrick Boocock, CEO for private equity alternative assets with real assets division at CapitaLand Investment; and Jing Zhou, a senior director with the alternatives and strategic transactions unit at US investment manager Nuveen.
Rounding out this year’s forum will be a spotlight interview on 20 September with Mark Fong, chief executive of sustainable data centre specialist Empyrion DC, who will be appearing together with James Chern, managing partner and chief investment officer with Seraya Partners, which has partnered with Empyrion in scaling up its regional platform.