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Top 10 datacentre stories of 2016

Here are Computer Weekly's top 10 datacentre stories of 2016

As enterprises move to offload the management of their IT infrastructure to cloud and colocation providers, the 2016 news landscape has been largely dominated by the impact this is having on the demand for datacentre capacity around the globe.

This year has seen all of the major cloud providers – Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM – commit to building out their global datacentre footprints for this reason, while grappling with how to do so without falling foul of the shifting sands of both the data protection and geopolitical landscape.

This growth has also served to ensure the datacentre sector’s environmental credentials have remained tightly scrutinised, as operators find themselves under pressure to ensure their operations are growing in a sustainable way.

With all this in mind, we take a look at the top 10 datacentre stories of 2016.

1. Datacentre outage takes insurance software house offline for two weeks

On 26 August 2016, insurance software provider SSP Worldwide suffered a datacentre power outage that triggered a chain of disaster recovery failings that left 300 of its customers unable to use its cloud-based Pure Broking platform for two weeks.

The system, used by insurance brokers to track renewals and issue quotes, is relied upon by brokers to carry out a number of day-to-day tasks, and the downtime left many of them struggling to trade and having to turn away customers.

Further outages blighted the platform several months after the original issues were addressed, and brokers rejected SSP Worldwide’s offer to refund the service fees they paid while the service was out of action.

At the time of writing, brokers were still awaiting news of the Financial Conduct Authority’s take on whether they would face enforcement action from the regulator for being unable to do their jobs during the August-September outage period.

2. Talent shortages threaten future datacentre industry growth

The problems recruiters face when trying to fill positions within the datacentre sector was brought into sharp focus in November, following the revelation that the average age of someone working in the industry is 55.

Given the high number of datacentre workers approaching retirement age, the sector must act now to ensure there is a sustainable pipeline of talent entering the sector to support its future growth.

The veil of secrecy the industry operates under, for data security reasons, has been cited as a barrier to entry for new recruits, along with the fact universities and colleges could do more to promote the datacentre sector as a destination for school leavers and graduates.

3. UK datacentre builds gather pace in wake of Brexit

The back end of 2015 saw a host of cloud firms - including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft – set out plans to build UK datacentres, as the fallout from the Safe Harbour ruling served to sharpen the minds of CIOs about the importance of hosting their data locally.

Fast-forward 12 months, and their plans are continuing apace, as data sovereignty remains a top concern for IT decision makers. However, in light of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, whether or not some of these proposed builds would proceed has been called into question.

While some pundits have predicted the Brexit vote may increase the demand for services hosted within a UK datacentre, lawmakers attempt to make sense of what our exit from the EU means for our data protection legislation in the long run.

There have also been reports, in the weeks following the EU referendum vote that some overseas investors have opted out of pouring money into UK datacentres because of the economic uncertainty over what leaving the EU may mean for businesses.

4. Microsoft’s underwater datacentre trials

Microsoft revealed details of its underwater datacentre trials, which saw the software giant deploy a self-contained vessel, containing a single server rack off the coast of California.

The rack was surrounded by pressurised nitrogen to absorb the heat the kit inside gives off, while the water surrounding the pod negates the need to equip it with any mechanical cooling systems.

When news of the trials emerged in February, Microsoft was quick to reinforce the point that it was simply trialling the use of underwater datacentres at this point, and that it had no immediate plans to start building out a network of subsea builds.

Even so, industry watchers and environmentalists were largely accepting of its plans, and the potential they could have for dealing with the latency issues that dog some cloud users in more remote parts of the world.

5. ING Bank customers count cost of datacentre testing

In what was undoubtedly one of 2016’s quirkier datacentre-related news stories, ING Bank customers in Romania were left unable to access their accounts and withdraw money after a test of its datacentre’s fire suppression system caused a round of on-site hard drive failures.

A test of the datacentre’s fire suppression procedures resulted in site’s noise levels exceeding 130dB, which was caused by the sound generated by the inert gas leaving the systems’ cylinders.

The noise, in turn, caused the hard disk drives inside the datacentres storage systems to vibrate and malfunction, leaving customers unable to access its internet banking services or make card transactions over a weekend in mid-September 2016.

6. Datacentre sustainability emerges as key AI use case

While the likes of Microsoft have been busy talking up the use cases for artificial intelligence and machine learning within our daily lives, Google has been busy putting the technology to use within its datacentres to improve their energy efficiency.

The search giant claims to have used the technology to more accurately model how the cooling requirements of its datacentres may change over the course of a set period of time, paving the way for it to cut its power use and save money.

The company said the use of AI has allowed it to improve the energy efficiency of its test facility, after the power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating for the site began to plateau after years of relying on human intervention to improve it.

7. Assessing the environmental impacts of datacentres

PUE is, and will remain for a long time to come, the primary metric for establishing how efficient a datacentre is, sustainability and environmental experts made a compelling case this year for expanding the range of measurements the industry uses to assess its sustainability.

So, rather than tracking the operational efficiency of a datacentre, they think the whole lifecycle of a facility – and all the equipment inside it – should be assessed and tracked too.

The reason for this is that it would enable operators to better assess how big an environmental impact their actions and activities have on the world.

8. Apple’s Irish datacentre woes

As the tech giants of the world have rushed to build out European datacentre presence this year, Apple has seen its bid to build a €850m facility in Ireland delayed by legal challenges and planning issues.

While Apple’s plans for the site in Athenry, County Galway, were approved in September 2015, a appeal against the decision – on environmental grounds – was rejected in August 2016, with many thinking that would be the end of it and the build would proceed.

However, several local people mounted legal challenges against the decision, which are on course to be heard early next year, delaying the project even further.

9. Telcos move to sell off datacentres

The datacentre sector has remained a hotbed of merge and acquisition activity in 2016, but – this time around – the action has largely centred on the telco community and its members’ appetite for offloading their facilities to someone else.

Verizon and CenturyLink are among the telecommunications firms that have moved to relinquish the burden of owning and operating their own sites this year, with the latter citing the high cost involved in maintain and growing the colocation side of its business.

While CenturyLink has said it will continue to offer colocation services to its customers long term, Verizon is understood to be planning to exit the cloud and hosting market completely, while industry watchers predict we could see other telcos following suit in 2017.

10. Chanel combines datacentres with high fashion

The datacentre industry found itself unexpected front and centre of this year’s Paris Fashion Week show, after Chanel kitted out its catwalk to look like a fully functioning server farm.

The luxury fashion brand’s show saw models (wearing garments designed by noted designer Karl Lagerfeld) breeze past stacks of servers, storage units and cabling equipment that were supposed to draw attention to the important role technology now plays in our daily lives.

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