4Qs with NTU’s Professor
Wen Yonggang

The Assistant Professor at NTU’s School of Computer Engineering was behind the winning team for the 2015 DatacenterDynamics Asia Pacific Awards in the “Open Data Center Project” category. This is the first time a research institute has won. He talks about the EMA-supported project, “Cloud3DView”, and the growing importance of data centres for power grid stability.

Wen Yonggang Photo credit: Nanyang Technological University

Could you share with us your vision and work?

Data centre energy consumption is one of the problems that caught my attention. At Cisco, where I was a software engineer, we developed advanced technologies and best practices to improve data centre energy efficiency. However, not much headway was made as data centre operators are averse to risks.

At NTU, I had the opportunity to secure a research grant from EMA to tackle this challenge again. I decided to leverage my knowledge in 3D modelling and machine learning to develop a data centre “pilot” simulator. This would act as a decision support system to better manage the risks of technology adoption in data centres. The project, “Cloud3DView”, earned us the 2015 DatacenterDynamics Awards - APAC.

What attracted you to Singapore and to NTU?

Coming from China, I almost did my post-graduate studies in Singapore back in 1999. However, my mentor steered me towards Massachusetts Institute of Technology and recommended that I take up Electrical Engineering & Computer Science. In 2009, one of my best friends, then a professor at NTU, asked if I would consider a faculty job at the university. It felt like déjà vu. This time, I decided to move to Singapore for two reasons. I got to collaborate with a team of stellar researchers I had known for a long time. I also got tobe nearer to my parents who are getting older.

Following your project “Cloud3DView” receiving the DatacenterDynamics Asia Pacific Awards – the “Oscars of the data centre industry” – how are you planning to take the research forward and towards commercialisation?

We are working towards getting the Green Mark certification. We are also exploring commercialisation opportunities. Among them is a potential spin-off with two international partners.

There has been growing interest in using data centres as interruptible loads to maintain power grid stability when necessary. What do you foresee are the key challenges in pushing out such solutions in Singapore?

The biggest challenge is still the data centre industry’s aversion to risks. Owing to the mission-critical nature of data centres, business continuity is of prime importance. As one Chinese proverb goes, it is easier to change a monarchy than to change one’s personality. We are working with international institutes to try to change mindsets. We are also trying to groom the next generation of engineering students to embrace new technologies with an aptitude for risk-taking.