Will Digital Britain and CRC objectives slow U.K. data centre growth?

Objectives for IT energy-efficiency in the Digital Britain report and the Carbon Reduction Commitment have raised questions about future data centre growth in the U.K. In this Q&A, Digital Realty Trust CTO Jim Smith talks about how the new requirements are likely to affect data centres.

If the U.K. is to achieve the Digital Britain report's ambitious objectives, IT managers may face new data centre energy-efficiency and power-consumption issues. In this Q&A, Jim Smith, chief technology officer of the Digital Realty Trust, discusses the challenges that lie ahead for data centres.

What proposals are made in the Digital Britain report and why are they important?

Jim Smith: The report is essentially a vision for Britain's future in the digital age. This encompasses a range of activities, from the switch to digital television to enabling universal access to broadband Internet; for example, 100% coverage within the U.K. by 2012. This reflects the belief -- which we at Digital Realty Trust believe is correct -- that the economy will be increasingly premised on digital interactions and that countries will need to develop effective supporting infrastructures to be competitive.

At the present time, the U.K. needs to strategically upgrade its infrastructure to make the proposals included in the Digital Britain report a reality. As a data centre provider, we can see that the goals outlined within the report will result in a geometric increase in data. Correspondingly, this will lead to an elevated requirement for data centre capacity. In evaluating the current state of the country's infrastructure components, the biggest issue that must be addressed is increasing its level of power availability.

What does this mean for the IT manager?

Smith: IT managers and their companies will be faced with two interrelated issues if the U.K. is to achieve its ambitious objectives. Both are power-related. The first issue is choosing a location that can support the power requirements of their data centre. Data centres, by nature, are power-intensive and therefore tend to coalesce around major areas of power distribution. Naturally, these requirements are best addressed in major metropolitan areas -- London, for example. Therefore, the first issue that these localities will have to address is building up their ability to deliver the increasing levels of electricity that these new facilities will require.

[The U.K.] is in a very advantageous position due to the fact that it is the most desired location for firms looking to add data centre capacity.

Jim Smith,
CTODigital Realty Trust

The second issue is balancing their energy usage within the parameters of the U.K.'s Carbon Reduction Commitment [CRC]. This will be particularly challenging from an operations perspective. The efficiency of power usage within a data centre actually improves as its consumption increases. This is at odds with the goals of the CRC, which seeks to limit consumption. This will force companies with extremely data- and thereby power-intensive operations to purchase carbon credits to offset their increased usage. For the IT manager, these mandates will necessitate the implementation of much more sophisticated metering and monitoring technologies than are typically employed. These increased levels of power usage monitoring will aid firms in understanding the nature of their energy utilisation so that they can better optimise their usage to comply with CRC standards.

France, Belgium and the Netherlands are considered as having more favorable operating conditions. Why?

Smith: In some other European countries -- those that you mentioned as well as others -- some firms may find that the cost of power is less than it is in the U.K. On the surface this would seem to provide them with a competitive advantage, but from a data centre perspective, this is not necessarily the case. Based on our research, we have historically found that most companies choose to locate their data centres within 30 miles of their headquarters.

This is understandable when you factor in considerations like familiarity with the labor force and municipal relationships. However, these "soft" requirements are typically eclipsed by very real geographic concerns. Financial service companies, for example, typically require their sites to be within synchronous communications range [30 miles] of each other to maintain operations in the event of a problem at one of the connected locations. Therefore, the initial appeal of these "competing" countries is often mitigated by the real technical requirements of the companies themselves.

How is this affecting the U.K.? What can be done?

Smith: As we have discussed, the U.K. will need to upgrade elements of its infrastructure to realise the goals that it has laid out in the Digital Britain report. That being said, the country is in a very advantageous position due to the fact that it is the most desired location for firms looking to add data centre capacity. Our research into market demand consistently demonstrates that it is the No.1 location for European-based firms as well as the No.1 non-U.S. location for data centres for U.S.-based companies.

In order to maintain and expand its position as Europe's preeminent market for data centres, along with achieving the objectives posited in the Digital Britain report, we believe that you will see the country embrace a practical strategy that focuses on its economic need to enhance its internal infrastructure and power-generating capacity. While this will require a delicate balance in light of its CRC objectives, the two requirements do not have to be viewed as mutually exclusive, and can be addressed in conjunction with each other.

Kayleigh Bateman is the site editor for SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.

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