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Hong Kong turns factories into datacentres to fuel cloud growth

SAR aims to beat Singapore as leading Asian digital hub

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An innovative approach to datacentre development is helping to see off Hong Kong’s competitors and establish it as the number one cloud computing hub in Asia, according to the government CIO, Daniel Lai.

Speaking to The Reg at the 13th annual Info-Security Conference in Hong Kong, Lai dismissed suggestions that Special Administrative Region (SAR) could be usurped by close rival Singapore as a technology centre for the region.

“Hong Kong has always had a very laissez-faire open market approach and there are a lot of advantages in its location, as the front-end for mainland China and as a financial and trading hub,” he gushed.

“We have a very good legal and banking system, good IP protection, free flow of information and few natural disasters. This is the competitive advantage Hong Kong can offer.”

Key to cementing its position as the pre-eminent digital hub for Asia and attracting big money investment from foreign firms has been the SAR’s approach to maximising the small amount of land available for datacentres.

“A lot of manufacturing industry has moved to China, leaving around 1,300 factory buildings that can be converted and we’re trying to put in place measures to make that easier,” said Lai.

“I feel that with the datacentres, Hong Kong is an advanced provider of IT with strong experience in business processes which can position itself well as a cloud computing hub for the region.”

Hong Kong’s most famous datacentre tenant is probably Google, which relocated its search servers in to the region in March 2010 after its well-publicised dispute with the Chinese authorities over censorship, but the SAR has been busting a gut to persuade others to take the plunge, said Lai.

These measures include waiving the usual fees levied on firms wanting to convert factory buildings into tier one or tier two datacentres, and working with electricity companies to ensure power supplies are at the required service levels, he explained.

Building codes of practice are also being tightened to provide more clarity on things like how much datacentre space should be devoted to car parks and lavatories.

Sinagpore’s low-tax, business-friendly policies and high quality of life have made it a genuine rival to Hong Kong for crown of pre-eminent Asian tech centre.

However, a report by real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield last November shows Lai and his team are doing something right.

Its survey into the risks of setting up datacentres in 20 countries and regions around the globe rated Hong Kong as the best location in Asia, with big firms including HSBC, Hong Kong Stock Exchange and NTT all building in the former industrial area of Tsueng Kwan O.

One area Lai has little control over, though, is air pollution. HR information provider ECA International recently rated Singapore the best place in Asia for ex-pats to live, followed by Tokyo and Kobe in Japan.

Although Hong Kong ranked an impressive third, the report pointed out that its air quality is among the worst in Asia. ®

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