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Energy crisis impact on datacentre market – Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast

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Podcast team discusses the energy crisis by way of the Sungard AS UK collapse, data analytics-powered wind turbines, and CW survey showing big increase in flexible working for IT professionals

In this episode, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna reflect on the current energy crisis by way of the Sungard AS UK collapse, and the role of software and data analytics in the wind turbine industry. They also talk about the findings of the annual Computer Weekly/TechTarget IT salary survey, which finds IT professionals more in control of their working lives than before the pandemic, and back to pre-health crisis wage levels.

They first pause to respect the sad passing of June Brown, the actor who is most famous for playing the character Dot Cotton in EastEnders. CW senior sub-editor and EastEnders fan Ryan Priest penned a tech tribute to her in our Downtime column to mark her passing. This links to Dot’s misadventures with technology on EastEnders, and the team talk briefly, on the podcast, about some other June Brown appearances on TV, including with Lady Gaga on The Graham Norton Show.

The podcast was also recorded the same week as the publication of the UN Climate Change report, which led on the point that it is “now or never” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Caroline gets the bulk of the episode under way with a story that throws into relief the energy crisis, and how rising energy costs have made life difficult for one datacentre market player, Sungard UK.

This co-location provider has gone into administration, beset by rising energy costs. Caroline explains the background to the story as she has encountered and processed it.

Energy prices have risen considerably over the past year. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the wholesale price of gas was four times higher in January 2022 than it was at the start of 2021.

Spiralling energy costs are a big deal for power-hungry datacentres. Sungard AS’s UK arm also had a quirk to its business model – that of providing business continuity services for enterprises at a time when, as Caroline explains, the main business response to the pandemic was to switch to working from home, and to avail themselves of public cloud provision.

It may, then, be an isolated incident. Nevertheless, energy costs are a disruptive factor. In the piece she talks around in the podcast, Caroline cites Emma Fryer, associate director of datacentres at UK tech trade body TechUK: “The impact of electricity costs is affecting operators differently depending on how they contract for fuel, which in turn depends on how big they are and whether they are coming up for renewal and how much they might need to hedge forward.”

On the podcast, Caroline surmises that the hyperscalers – AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google – are more able to weather the storm as energy costs continue to increase.

She also talks about the oft-discussed possibility of shifting to the Nordics, which makes more use of renewables than does the datacentre market in the UK and mainland Europe, as a way of defraying rising energy costs here. At present, niche high-performance computing tends to go that way, but not mainstream enterprise workloads, for reasons Caroline explains on the pod.

Data-powered wind turbines

On another energy-related topic, Brian moves on to talk about a feature in Computer Weekly by Steven Mathieson concerning wind turbines and the data analytics behind them.

Steven has written in depth for the publication before, including an article about how software can be used to help clean up emission-intensive industries. This was discussed in a previous podcast, too.

The UK gets about 4% of its energy from wind, which does not sound like a great deal, but it is 10 times as much as in 2010. The UK government’s energy security strategy was published on 7 April. It promises more windfarms, but offshore rather than onshore, which has attracted criticism from the Labour Party Opposition, as well as some academics and industry groups.

On the podcast, Brian flags a couple of elements of the feature How data analytics drives wind turbine power generation. One is the role of data analytics, which is expounded in the feature by Sophia Fannon-Howell, BP’s global data and analytics principal, among others. This role covers data used for planning a wind turbine farm when making an application to construct. Another is data analytics used for predictive maintenance.

Brian comments that if listeners want to know what a “yaw” or a “nacelle” is in the world of wind turbines, then Steven’s feature is a great place to go. He concludes that data analytics is important for making wind turbines work better.

Caroline touches on some work she has in progress on using technology to overcome the intermittency of wind- and solar-generated energy – software-defined energy networks. Watch this space.

IT professionals calibrate better work-life balance

The Covid-19 pandemic and related lockdowns were, arguably, somewhat beneficial to the environment. Certainly, fewer IT professionals were travelling so much, not just on their regular commutes, but on flights (some of them) for conference and other business travel.

Next on the podcast, Clare goes into her recent analysis of the annual Computer Weekly/TechTarget IT salary survey. Almost 40% of IT workers are now working fully flexibly. Indeed, 30% are now working from home all the time. That contrasts starkly with the 2019/20 survey, in which 10% of respondents said they worked from home all the time.

Clare comments on the podcast that the respondents to our survey are less Generation Z people as senior IT professionals, but they are still behind the flexible working trend, and that is a positive thing for the future. In her piece, she writes: “72% of IT workers say that life priorities are an important consideration for them when it comes to work, and 72% also saying the same about work/life balance.

“IT workers are also becoming more conscious of company values, with 61% saying it is important to them that the values of their employer align with their own, and 45% saying sustainability and climate change have become important to them since the start of the pandemic.”

On the podcast, Clare comments on how marked it is that the pandemic period has made people rethink their priorities in life. And Caroline comments on the phenomenon of recruiters being alive to technology teams being loath to jump to “return to the office” edicts, and willing to explore other opportunities.

Average IT professional salaries are also rebounding to pre-pandemic levels, following a drop. The average is now £79,330, which looks like a good indicator of recovery.

Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade

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