PARTNER FEATURE: In November 2023, Philippine telco Globe Telecom unveiled a new 5G-ready data center located in Tiaong, Quezon Province. Globe partnered with digital infrastructure and continuity solutions provider Vertiv to design and construct the data center, which Globe will use to widen availability and strengthen reliability of its mobile and fixed network services.

The TIA 942, Tier-II data center sports 132 racks with an IT load of 1.2 MW. It’s also a modular data center, with Vertiv supplying its integrated modular solutions for the project. But arguably what’s most unique about it isn’t so much what’s inside it but how it was built.

The Tiaong data center employs a unique construction model, combining a brick-and-mortar approach with Vertiv’s integrated modular solutions. The result is a compact and fully utilized space that serves Globe’s current requirements that can also be expanded  quickly if (or more likely when) future demand increases exponentially.

Parallel builds
Vertiv’s model for building modular data centres is fairly straightforward, says Kush Yapa, Associate Director for IMS Solutions Offering and Pre-Sales Engineering at Vertiv.

“We handle the design and build for the whole modular data center – like the white space and the power room areas and so on, and we also handle the construction,” he says. “Everything inside the data center – like the DC power systems and precision cooling systems and so on – is modularized within our building factory, then it’s all transported to the site and put together to make a full data center.”

The Tiaong data center used a different process that Vertiv describes as a combined brick-and-mortar/modular approach. Put simply, this means that Vertiv put together the modular systems while the physical space was being constructed, as opposed to doing the construction first then filling the site with equipment.

“Basically, we worked on a parallel timeline,” Yapa says. “The critical areas, like the white space area and power room area, were done offsite as modular solutions, while things like the utility areas, office areas and entry areas, things like that, were being constructed as brick-and-mortar.”

You want it faster
The main reason for building the data centre this way: it’s faster.

“Our strategy was 100% about lessening the time to build it, because the readiness date was quite tight,” says JP Pagcaliwagan, director for Core Facility Engineering at Globe Telecom. “You do the modular integration part and the brick and mortar part at the same time, and there’s a certain period of your execution where both are ready, and you just join them together. It saves a lot of time.”

This is particularly true in the Philippines, where acquiring the necessary permits and authorisations to deploy any kind of communications equipment can be a time-consuming process, says Vertiv’s Yapa.

“If you look at traditional builds, you go in, select a site, apply for building permit applications, and wait for the applications to be approved so you can start the construction,” he says. “With a parallel hybrid approach, we don’t have to wait until land acquisition is ready or building permits are ready. We do the complete design for the modular data center, and we start building straightaway. Then once we get the civil works approvals, we can start the foundation works, and by the time we are finalizing that, we are ready for deployment for the whole building.”

All up, the first phase of the Tiaong data center took about one year to complete – which includes a delay in arranging for substation connections.

There are other advantages to a hybrid approach besides fast deployment. At the launch ceremony, Vertiv’s country manager for the Philippines, Jason Lim, said the collaborative approach with Globe “allowed for a more energy-efficient, environmentally-sound design compared to traditional build.”

Yapa says the power efficiency gains come from “a combination of better combination of perimeter cooling, the right floorplan and cold aisle containment.”

Yapa adds that this approach can technically be done for data centres of any size, from a small five-rack affair to a massive hyperscale DC, and Vertiv has in fact done both. “It depends on things like timeframes and budget constraints, so we develop solutions based on what the customer needs.”

Getting ready for 5G
As for why Globe Telecom was on a tight schedule for the Tiaong data center, the telco is bracing itself for growing customer demands for faster connectivity and data applications in the Philippines as the country goes increasingly digital, says Pagcaliwagan.

“Before the pandemic, data usage growth here was relatively slow, but during the pandemic, the traffic increased a lot, and that trend is continuing post-pandemic,” he says. “So that’s why we are rolling out data centres like this.”

That’s one reason why Globe describes the data centre as “5G-ready”. 5G network deployments have been going full-steam in the Philippines for some time. As of November 2023, Globe’s 5G network coverage reached 97.67% of Metro Manila and just over 92% in cities in Visayas and Mindanao. 5G takeup is still relatively low in the Philippines, but that’s expected to change in the coming three to five years.

Another reason the Tiaong data center is 5G-ready is that the servers are designed specifically for 5G applications, says Pagcaliwagan.

“The servers needed for 5G are anticipated to be near or similar to enterprise servers,” he explains. “Even they are working telco processes, their characteristics are more like what you find in an enterprise rack, like IBM, HP, something like that. So we designed this data center on an enterprise grade solution.”

The other characteristic that makes it 5G-ready is its ability to expand capacity quickly as 5G data traffic ramps up, Yapa adds.

“The modular design also is an expandable one, which means we can add more modules on the side or the back,” he says. “We designed this data center so that we can double the capacity. At the moment, we’re at 1.2MW, so we can add one more 1.2MW phase for Phase 2 once it’s needed.”