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We are building digitized, future-ready data centers: Ashish Arora – CEO, Nxtra By Airtel

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In this exclusive editorial interview, we delve into the dynamic world of data center strategy with Nxtra Data, a key player in India’s digital infrastructure landscape. Nxtra Data operates an extensive network of data centers, and in this discussion, Ashish Arora – CEO, Nxtra By Airtel, shares insights into the company’s data center strategy, highlighting its aggressive expansion plans, commitment to sustainability, and innovative use of AI technology to drive operational efficiency.

Some edited excerpts:

Describe in brief your data center strategy? Could you share some specific examples of strategies you have employed to optimize data center operational efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and enhance overall sustainability?

Currently we operate the largest interconnected network of 12 large and 120 edge data centers in India. Given the country is on a very rapid digitization pace in every part of the economy, we have an aggressive data center expansion plan to support India’s digital growth. In the next three years, we will launch 6 new hyperscale data centers across key metro cities and will increase the existing capacity by 2X to over 400 MW. In addition, as there is rapid adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) based applications, we are ensuring all our new hyperscale data centers are designed to handle complex AI workloads through high structural floor loading and next-gen cooling technologies. Thus, providing hyperscalers and enterprises a future-ready infrastructure to implement AI and other next-gen applications.

Energy Efficiency – Nxtra has secured ISO 50001:2018 certification for its core data centers in FY 23. This is a testament to the company’s adherence to the rigorous Energy Management System (EnMS) guidelines. Over the past five years, we saw a remarkable 20% improvement in Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). Better energy efficiency has further helped us in optimizing operational costs, minimizing environmental impact, and enhancing sustainability. It also allows us to maximize our data centers capacity without needing to constantly expand the infrastructure, leading to better space utilization and reduced capital expenditures.

Green Energy – Sustainability is a top business agenda for us. We are aggressively scaling up the renewable energy footprint in our data centers and have already partnered with 10 green energy companies. We have an ambition to reach net zero by 2031. We have increased our renewable energy penetration by 58% in FY 23 as compared to FY 22. All our new hyperscale data centers are green from day 1, with maximum permissible RE replacement.

Operational Efficiency – AI has emerged as a cornerstone within our data centers to achieve operational excellence. By leveraging AI tools, we are improving the predictability of our systems and have achieved a significant reduction in energy consumption, downtime, manual efforts, maintenance costs and troubleshooting time.

Do you use AI in enhancing the operational efficiency of your data center? What are some of the major benefits? Please quantify wherever possible?

At Nxtra, we are building digitized, future-ready data centers. We are leveraging AI technologies to enhance the overall efficiency of our data centers in following ways:

AI Enhanced Operations – Through AI-driven tools, we are improving the predictability of our systems, optimizing schedules and reducing the downtime. Our security operations have witnessed a 100% accuracy boost with QR-based AI integration and automating tracking while reducing manual efforts by 90%. Furthermore, AI-infused iBMS & SCADA systems have reduced troubleshooting time by 90%, elevating system reliability.

Intelligent Dashboard – Our AI-powered PAN India dashboard proactively identifies risks, optimizes maintenance schedules, and achieves a remarkable 50% reduction in man-hours. It offers predictive maintenance, better operational efficiency, report accuracy, and reduced corrective maintenance cost by 10%, making our data centers more cost-effective.

Energy Efficiency: AI identifies high PUE factors, resulting in an 11.5 metric ton reduction in CO2 emissions through a 1% PUE decrease. Heat balancing achieves a 10% cooling load reduction, saving 3-4% on energy costs while aligning with sustainability goals.

These achievements spotlight our commitment to operational excellence, with AI shaping our data center’s capabilities in profound, quantifiable ways.

What security measures have you implemented in your data center to protect against evolving cyber threats, and how do you ensure data integrity and confidentiality?

At Nxtra, safeguarding our data centers is an ongoing endeavor. We have embraced several technological advancements to stay ahead of evolving cyber and physical threats. Our data centers are purpose-built and have the best amalgamation of physical and electronics security, along with adherence to global standards & regulations that ensures data integrity and confidentiality.

Secure by Design – We have invested heavily in building automated tools, platforms and resource expertise to provide fool-proof protection to businesses round the clock. We have built a centre of excellence dedicated to enterprise cybersecurity known as Security Operations Centre (SOC). It helps in the identification and remediation of all major technological susceptibilities before they turn into a vulnerability. At Airtel SOC, we analyse millions of events for our customers 24*7 and then predict, prevent and respond to threats in real time by leveraging AI and ML technologies.

Advanced Security Measures – We offer comprehensive, multi-layer security for our data centers including under vehicle scanner, AI/ML-driven surveillance cameras, intrusion detection systems, man traps, and centralized command center that ensures a safer and protected place to prevent organization’s IT infrastructure. We have also enforced stringent biometric based access controls, utilizing multi-factor authentication and role-based mechanisms to limit data access to authorized personnel.

Robust Audits – We conduct regular security audits and assessments across all our data centers. It serves as proactive checks to swiftly identify and rectify vulnerabilities, ensuring our systems remain fortified against cyber threats.

How do you leverage new technologies and trends in the data center industry, such as edge computing and distributed data centers, modular designs, or liquid cooling systems, to drive innovation and stay ahead of the curve?

The technology world around us is changing at a rapid pace. At Nxtra, we continuously explore and leverage new technologies in the data center to drive innovation and build future-ready infrastructure.

Edge Computing – The deployment of 5G networks along with rapid adoption of new age applications such as IoT, OTT, Gaming, AI/ML, AR and VR are driving the huge demand for Edge compute in India. These technologies require ultra-low latency and higher bandwidth to deliver its full potential. Distributed Edge data centers in tier2/tier3 cities are essential to support these applications as they enable real-time processing closer to end users. At Nxtra, we are already operating 120 edge data centers distributed across 65+ locations in India. Thus enabling enterprises to host the applications and content closer to their customers. We are further adding more capacities in our network dense edge DCs to help our customers deliver a superior real time experience.

New-age Cooling – AI/ML based applications are data hungry and compute-intensive. They demand Robust new age Data Centers (DCs) that are capable of handling very high density workloads going up to 40 KW per rack using new-age liquid cooling and direct-to-chip technologies. At Nxtra, we are building new hyperscale data centers that are designed to handle these complex AI/ML based workloads through next-gen cooling technologies.

Advanced Green Technology – We are committed to set new benchmarks in sustainability for the data center industry. Along with leveraging wind and solar, we are investing in new innovative green energy technologies to provide clean energy. We recently became the first data center company in India to adopt hydrogen-ready fuel cell technology to reduce carbon emissions.

Design Excellence – At Nxtra, we are building future-ready, digitized data center infrastructure with the advanced modular design approach that can seamlessly scale with business needs on-demand. We have a large in-house design team which works as the Center of Excellence (COE), with specialists in the area of cooling, structural and more. This team continues to work on cutting-edge design solutions based on continuous learning from industry best practices, customers and partners.

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