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Prepare for lights out in the data centre

Cliff Saran

The lights may go out in data centres, if new power stations are not built to replace those that are being decommissioned.

A report from Capgemini has found that the UK risks major power outages. Electricity output has fallen by 2.2% to its lowest level in 10 years - placing the UK at risk of power shortages in the near future unless more stations are built.

However, power companies may be under pressure not to invest in major projects such as building new power stations now, due to the current economic climate, Alistair Green, Energy and Utility, senior consultant at Capgemini warned.

Data centres are large users of electricity. Clients of analyst firm Gartner based in the South East have already expressed concerns that the 2012 London Olympics will strain the National Grid. This could get worse, unless power stations are replaced. Gartner vice-president Rakesh Kumar, said, "Businesses are angry they may need to buy expensive diesel generators for back-up power because the energy companies cannot guarantee supply."

Businesses that run resilient servers often run so-called "n+1" configurations, where they provide one extra set of servers/IT infrastructure to cope with a single major failure. Some experts believe that if power glitches and outages become a persistent problem, data centre managers may need to duplicate their data centres (ie n+n), which requires twice as much IT infrastructure, costly considerably more to run.

Some of the biggest operators are looking at radical ways to lower electricity consumption, which reduces the risk of downtime caused by electricity supply problems. Last year Google launched an initiative through an internal engineering department to produce one gigawatt of electricity using renewable energy at a lower cost than using electricity from coal power stations on the electricity grid.

Investment Bank Morgan Stanley also had plans to build an offshore data centre located in Scotland's Pentland Firth, which separates the Orkney Islands from the Scottish mainland,


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