Friday, 3 July 2009

UK Government says more data centres needed!

According to the widely publicised 'Digital Britain'report, it is anticipated that 'the volume of digital content will increase 10x to 100x over the next 3 to 5 years' and that 'we are on the verge of a "big bang" in the communications industry that will provide the UK with enormous economic and industrial opportunities.' The question posed in the report, however, is where is all this data going to be stored? The answer, of course, is in data centres.

The report continues; 'All of the information on the global Internet, whether for commerce, industry or consumer consumption, has to be stored somewhere in digital form on servers. This is the function of the Data centres. They are a crucial part of the underlying infrastructure and a vital foundation block of much of the digital economy.'

'The current demand for highly-connected data centres in the UK points to constraints in supply which is of concern as these facilities can take up to two years to build from initial inception. The private sector needs to look beyond the current recession since the up-turn in the economy will not be the only driver of expanding demand - the quantity of information to be stored continues to rise exponentially across the world.'

Those involved in the industry already know about the shortage of supply, but if the report is only half right, this shortage will soon become a drought. Putting this in context, the introduction to the report states, 'Yesterday, 20 hours of new content were posted on YouTube every minute, 494 exabytes of information were transferred seamlessly across the globe, over 2.6 billion mobile minutes were exchanged across Europe, and millions of enquiries were made using a Google algorithm.'

Assuming a rather conservative view is taken and that digital content increases just 5 times over the next 3 to 5 years, this would result in 100 hours of YouTube content being posted every minute, 2,470 exabytes of information being transferred and 13 billion mobile minutes being exchanged across Europe. This would result in the current shortage becoming chronic!

It is evident, not just from the report, but also from what is happening today, that new data centres must be built ... and soon! The average data centre will take 6-12 months to construct (some longer) and that's only after all the relevant permissions have been obtained. Building a data centre isn't that easy either. In order to support all of the technology - servers, storage, network equipment etc., there is a significant amount of infrastructure required. Firstly, any site that is identified as a potential site for a data centre needs power ... lots of it! And there isn't much of that around at the moment. Some towns and cities are reported to be down to their last megawatt of power, and that isn't nearly enough to power a data centre of any size. A data centre of just 100 racks of equipment is likely to need at least 1 megawatt of power, the average commercial data centre will have upwards of 500 racks ... some will run into thousands. A second consideration is the communications required. These data centres need big communications links. Not a 200Mbps connection as is currently being trialled in Kent, but several Gigabit, or even Terrabit, connections will be required. Getting these connections to the data centre is not cheap!

Getting the design right is going to be crucial. It isn't, as some newer entrants to the market seem to believe, a case of chucking a load of power and communications into a shed and calling it a data centre. Very careful consideration needs to be given to the operation of these data centres after the builder has gone. It needs specialist design with the ongoing operation at the forefront of that design. In some existing data centres an upgrade will be necessary, in others it won't be possible as their design and infrastructure simply won't support the new demands.

The report states, 'London is the largest data centre market in Europe and a location for international businesses looking to expand into Europe.' This is currently true, but the clever people are going to be thinking slightly outside the box. London is the largest data centre market in Europe but with the chronic shortage of power in London at the moment and the lack of investment in infrastructure meaning it won't get better anytime soon, London may not be the panacea to the problem. The UK certainly, but the clever money will be building outside of the capital. Some will need to be close enough to allow synchronous replication of data, but most applications don't need this - digital storage being one.

Smart operators should be looking to build data centres in locations where both power and connectivity are available. Really smart operators should be looking at sites where both power and connectivity are available and where the power comes from a 'green' source. Whilst the government, through the Digital Britain report, has rightly identified that there is a need for more data centres and that there is a current shortage which can only get worse, they have, as ever, balanced this with the introduction of a promise to heavily tax those users of significant energy, or which data centres are one.

Interesting times are ahead for the data centre industry!

Migration Solutions has many years of experience in computer room and data centre design and construction. Utilising operational experience to create a data centre that runs as efficiently as possible, but is easy to use for the operations team is the most important aspect of any data centre or computer room design. For more information visit

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