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Top 10 datacentre stories of 2021

Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 datacentre stories of 2021

The 2021 datacentre news cycle has been dominated by stories about how demand for hyperscale datacentre capacity is continuing to boom, while market watchers grow increasingly concerned about how all this growth is affecting the environment.

In response, many of the sector’s major players have made public commitments to ramp up their use of renewable energy, cut their carbon emissions and manage their water consumption more effectively to bolster their sustainability credentials.

The demand for datacentre capacity has also fuelled another round of big-ticket mergers and acquisitions this year, which has led to a fresh wave of private equity cash flowing into the sector, while also helping to fund the growth of new and emerging datacentre hubs in developing countries.

This year has also seen a number of other locations rise to prominence and in popularity with operators who are having to seek out sites further afield from where they typically like to build their server farms due to overcrowding, as well as power constraints.

Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 datacentre stories of 2021.

1. Industry giants unite to support EU-wide climate neutral datacentre pact

At the start of 2021, major players from the public cloud and colocation community joined forces with trade associations from across the continent to publicly commit to taking steps that would led to datacentre industry becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

The group, which has since added many more member since the start of the year, have bandied together to form the Climate Neutral Datacentre Pact, in support of the European Green Deal, which is geared towards establishing Europe as the first climate neutral continent in the world by 2050.

2. National Security and Investment Act gives datacentre operators pause for thought

While the datacentre industry’s growth shows no obvious signs of slowing down anytime soon, concerns were raised earlier in the year that a government-backed shake-up of the overseas investment screening regime for national security reasons could have a dampening impact.

The National Security and Investment Act was introduced this year to give the UK government enhanced powers to pre-screen and intervene on datacentre M&A deals. That includes acquisitions involving both domestic and overseas investors to ensure the business assets and intellectual property of datacentre operators do not fall into the wrong hands.

3. OVHCloud datacentre catches fire

While datacentre outages remained a mainstay of the 2021 news agenda, the one suffered by French Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider OVHCloud in March 2021 dominated headlines for longer than most given it was caused by a fire, and left some customers without access to their data for several weeks after.

In the aftermath of the event, market watchers predicted the event would serve as a cautionary tale for enterprises about the importance of having a resilient backup and disaster recovery setup in place for all cloud workloads, while also changing the way operators approach fire suppression in future.

4. Hyperscale datacentres increase in size and number

The number of hyperscale datacentres in operation continues to go up, as consumer demand for cloud and internet services soars, but data from Synergy Research Group revealed that the average size of these facilities has doubled over in less than four years.

“It has taken five years for the number of hyperscale datacentres to double,” the analyst house said, “but less than four years for capacity to double.”  

5. Water consumption habits of datacentres come under closer scrutiny

With energy usage and carbon emissions tending to dominate discussions about datacentre sustainability, the amount of water used to regulate the temperature of server farms has also started to become more readily discussed this year.

This is on the back of research published by datacentre resiliency thinktank, the Uptime Institute, that highlighted how patchy the reporting is by operators about how much water their sites consume.

6. The UK’s most powerful supercomputer goes live

Nine months after it was announced, the Cambridge-1 supercomputer went live in July 2021 and instantly became the UK’s most powerful supercomputer.

The £50m, Nvidia-backed supercomputer is housed in Kao Data’s colocation facility in Cambridge, and is already being used to process pharmaceutical and healthcare-related data and workloads to help accelerate the pace of the UK’s genome sequencing, drug discovery and disease research efforts.

7. Datacentre market M&A deals hit new heights

As is the case in previous years, the datacentre market has seen a host of mergers and acquisitions take place this year, but the investor profile of those embarking on these deals has markedly changed, exemplified by the growing number of private equity players moving into the space.

As figures published by Synergy Research Group show, the number and value of M&A deals this year is on course to dwarf those that occurred during 2020, once the $10bn takeover of colocation giant CoreSite is closed.

8. UK government pushes for datacentre waste heat to be used better

The publication of the UK government’s long-awaited net-zero strategy suggested that the datacentre community might come under more pressure to find innovative ways to reuse the waste heat generated by their operations.

The strategy document specifically flagged datacentres as being a prime source of waste heat that could be repurpose to warm homes and businesses, as part of its push to decarbonise the economy.

While there are some use cases in the UK of datacentres that reuse their heat, it is thought that government pressure might result in more operators following suit.

9. Dublin serves as a warning about risks of unsustainable datacentre growth

Details emerged this year about how Dublin’s standing as the Europe’s second-biggest datacentre hub could be on potentially shaky ground as Ireland’s electricity infrastructure creaks under the pressure of so many power-hungry server farms plugging into its national grid.

In response, the Irish government and the country’s energy regulators have found themselves launching revies and consultations to work out how the company can meet its renewable energy usage goals, while supporting the continued growth the datacentre market and ensuring energy security for Ireland’s homes and businesses.

10. Environmentally conscious enterprises eye the Nordics as a datacentre location

The Nordics has found itself repeatedly lauded as a good place for datacentre operators to set up shop due to the region’s abundance of cheap, renewable energy. However, the reality of the situation has not always lived up to the hype, with the region’s colocation providers often called upon to run more niche, power-hungry workloads for their clients.

However, given the power and space constraints blighting other datacentre hubs across Europe, the Nordic region’s characteristics and benefits have been brought into sharper focus for firms that are increasingly looking to make their hosting arrangements more environmentally friendly.

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