The data centre boom: Finding the right site just got serious

Our expert poses some basic, but important, tests of potential data centre sites, including location, connectivity and power, that companies should be aware of.

With the data centre market continuing to grow at an astounding rate, co-locating operational servers or finding space for an expanding server business is only going to get more difficult. With a 30 percent increase in data centre floor space since March 2009, and a finite amount of resources available (land, suitable buildings, adequate power and data connections), finding a site that ticks all of the boxes could be a real struggle in the future.

As will become increasingly clear, there are combinations of factors that can determine whether a certain site is appropriate for a data centre. This limits the number of suitable sites, but if customers know what to look for they can make sure they find the right facility before it starts coming at a premium cost.

Location, location, location
A good starting point is the site's physical location, as this can affect every other factor. Road and rail links are vital for easy access to your servers if they go down in the middle of the night, but a location outside of the M25 motorway will help to keep finances in check as a result of lower land costs.

A data centre next to a fuel depot could be seriously damaged by an industrial accident. The likelihood of terrorist attacks at or in the vicinity of the site's location is also worth considering.

It only takes one aspect of a data centre to ruin the entire experience, and to make co-location a very painful process.

Matt Munson, Group Technical Director at BlueSquare Data,

While it may seem rather simplistic, common sense comes into force here. You should have a good look around the data centre you are considering using. Does the area look safe, secure and quiet? Or is the site in the middle of a noisy, busy industrial estate, with people constantly milling around posing a potential security threat? Are you on a flood plain or under a main aircraft flight path?

A data centre is more than a rack of servers
Even if a suitable location can been found, it doesn't mean that the building itself is suitable.

For data centres built in old warehouses, you have to question what the building originally stored. If it was hazardous material, for example, then the chances of the building being contaminated are quite high, putting your servers and staff at risk. Even if the data centre stored nothing more dangerous than paper clips, the age and state of repair of the building could still pose a major problem.

It is impossible to check yourself whether the roof is double-skinned, or whether the building was built in the last 15 years, but the data centre owners should know this, and have no qualms about telling you the structure's history. If you're in any doubt and want to find a trouble-free site, you should look for a data centre housed in a purpose-built facility.

Power always comes into play
While electricity isn't a finite resource, the existing power infrastructure in London may reach capacity in three years time, meaning power companies won't be able to provide enough electricity for new data centre sites.

Outside of the M25, this is less of a problem because there are fewer demands on the network, but data centres need much more power than a standard business, and these needs have to be accommodated by the infrastructure.

Even if the data centre site has enough power, there are countless things that can interrupt this, and a customer should ask what is being done to mitigate these potential problems. Firstly, it's worth asking how close to the nearest primary substation the site is. A greater distance will increase the likelihood of something going wrong between the data centre and the power supply source. You should also double-check whether the facility has at least N+1 redundancy for its UPS systems and electricity generators, so that if the external power supply is interrupted, it won't affect your servers.

Getting connected
Fibre optic technology and the UK's infrastructure has kept pace with growing demand, meaning that access to fibre networks is there for those that need it.

However, for data centres outside of built-up areas, the main issue is getting the data centre connected to the fibre network. If the data centre is big enough, then telecoms providers may connect it free of charge, but smaller providers will have to pay per kilometer of fibre laid in the ground, which may have an impact on the data centre's prices.

Finding your perfect match
It only takes one aspect of a data centre to ruin the entire experience, and to make co-location a very painful process. Even if a data centre has power and connectivity, it isn't going to be suitable if it is difficult to get to and can only be accessed during the day.

Data centre customers need to ask the right questions to ensure they choose the right site. While it might mean a slightly longer search is needed, the reassurance of having a quality provider that ticks all of the boxes should far outweigh the initial time investment.

Matt Munson is the Group Technical Director at UK co-location provider BlueSquare Data and a contributor to

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