Data Center site selection in tiny Singapore and elsewhere in Asia – Pitfalls to avoid


I stay in the Northern area of Singapore, and helicopter flies over or nearby my apartment block daily because there is a military airbase within 1km. One fine afternoon, I heard a loud crash sound. If you typed in Apache Helicopter Crash Woodlands into Google Search, you will see an image like the above picture.

The crash took place on 30th September 2010, and in the background of the photo is a 3M factory. This crash site is along Woodlands Ave 12 where a multi-level data center facility of 25,000 square meters will be built. The military helicopter airbase is only about 200meters away and the helicopters do fly over the Woodlands industrial and housing estates. Potential clients will be quite worried when they can see helicopter lifts off or flies over the data center facility.

Would you choose a data center site that has the following known issues:

  • Within 2km of flight path
  • Within 300m from a helicopter airbase
  • Within 300m of a helicopter crash site
  • Within 200m from a railway track
  • Within 100m from a river/storm water drainage
  • Right next to a flooded junction
  • A big storm water drain pipe that goes underneath a carpark where we wanted to build a data center building
  • Within the power station compound
  • In an open campus technology park that disallow erecting of fence
  • The authority will change the purpose of the area from that is suitable for data center to favor oil and chemical industry
  • The next door neighbor is a storage warehouse (potentially storage of flammable material)
  • MV Transformer or Backup Generator at below ground level (existing building)

I and my fellow colleagues had encountered all of the above situations before.

If you key in Singapore Cable Landing Station into Google Map, you will learn that it is only 500m away from one of the closest runway of Changi International Airport.


Most did not know that the Changi cable landing station is so close to the airport runway. So data center should have its international circuit routed to more than just the Singapore Cable (Changi) landing station, there are more than one other cable landing station, the ones that I know off are Katong and the Western Singapore cable station.

The thing is, Singapore is a small island, 720 odd square kilometers with airbases in the north, west, and east. The central area is a water catchment and nature reserve. It is therefore a compromise of all the recommended distances away from man-made elements (BICSI-002, Table 5-1).


Courtesy of Gary Ng (


In China, the case of allocation of land and decision by the top man without technical inputs is what put me and my colleagues in very difficult situation. One of the data center site that the top man had already decided before passing to me for technical design is within 200meters of a river and a railway track. I was told to have the fire escape stairwells away from the railway track and I have to make sure no open windows on the walls facing the railway track. Still, all potential clients will give our site a pass except one. This potential client came back to us because the other sites that they looked at do not have the capacity to house their quantity of racks (1,000 racks).

The recommended distances away from the high risk areas are available from the various data center design standards/guidelines/best practices such as the TIA942, BICSI002, EN50600 etc. Mark out those absolutely cannot be accepted attributes, and give marks/weightage as part of the site assessment.

At the end of the day, when you tally up the scores of the various sites that you have visited, pick out the top two plus one more and present to the client or your boss that commission the site assessment study.

One good advice that one of my colleague had found out about a already built data center building (Building A by owner A), is that there is seemingly a new data center being built further down the road and he asked the representative of our site about the new building (Building B) and learnt that it is being commissioned by an C who is existing client in building A. So new buyer of building A will suffer when C moves out.

I did a site assessment of a built data center in southern China and I saw something that is not right, i.e. no smoke detector in the generator yard, but they said that a little device on the pillar is the smoke detector. I asked for the model number and they are stumped. On second visit, smoke detectors are present where they were absent.

There are a few key pointers to the site selection:

  1. Site visits (noticed the plural form) at least once per day, evening and night
  2. Assessment Checklist
  3. Map review (Authorities plans and maps)
  4. Past incidents of the site
  5. Check out what businesses are the neighbors doing (next door, and one more door further down)
  6. Last but not least, get a third party to do the checking and assessment
  7. Review client list (if assessing an existing data center building)



Data Center site selection in tiny Singapore and elsewhere in Asia – Pitfalls to avoid

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