Centre of attention

There was a time when the emerging spectre of cloud computing brought the future of the data centre into question. If all IT infrastructure services can be delivered from just a handful of giant ‘clouds’, then why would any organisation manage or rent its own data centre space?

That extreme consolidation no longer seems likely, at least not in the next decade. Nevertheless, cloud computing is one of the key drivers reshaping the data centre market, as delegates at Information Age’s recent Future of the Data Centre event heard.

Flexible friend

By all accounts, security considerations are putting a brake on wholesale uptake of public cloud infrastructure. Are these security fears justified?

Yes, they are, said Johnnes Arreymbi from the School of Computing and Technology at the University of East London, because public cloud computing exposes business data to the frailties of web security. These issues can be fixed, he said, but “control is one of the main concerns”.

It is sentiment like this that explains the interest in ‘private clouds’, in which scalable, virtualised systems are hosted on dedicated infrastructure – whether self-managed or outsourced to a third party.

Another driver is data centre consolidation. Shawn Majeski, an independent systems integration consultant, explained how an unnamed client had built its own private cloud, massively decreasing its data centre footprint. “We emptied six data centres and stuck it all into one,” he said.

Some cloud demand is driven by hype, reported Ray Welsh of data centre hosting provider The Bunker, but there are also cases of genuine business demand. Cloud computing, he said, has “crossed the chasm”, moving from a disruptive innovation to a mainstream concern. What impact will the rise of cloud computing have on the data centre industry? On one hand, as virtualised, cloud infrastructure drives greater utilisation for hardware resources, one might imagine that it will slow demand for data centre space.

However, Tim Anker from hosting brokerage the Colocation Exchange, speculated that cloud computing may in fact increase demand. Small businesses, he observed, who might only operate a few servers in-house, are now taking their “tentative first steps” towards the cloud, in the form of cloud hosting or software as a service.

He also pointed out that this presents a challenge for IT managers hoping to keep IT costs under control. “Software as a service allows the total IT costs to increase without going through the IT department,” he said.

Where in the world?

In the UK, there are in fact two distinct data centre hosting markets, Anker said. The first is inside London, where the prices are the highest in Europe; the other is outside the capital, where colocation services are among the most affordable in the continent.

The reason for this, of course, is the high demand for data centre space close to the City, combined with the dearth of supply.

As Roger Keenan of data centre hosting provider City Lifeline explained, it is not just the lack of physical space in the capital that constrains data centre supply in London, but also a lack of available power. “Getting power in London is hard,” he said.

This is in part the result of the peculiarities of the city’s power infrastructure. Power lines run in concentric rings out from central London, and if you happen to need a data centre outside one of these rings then you are out of luck. “It might be a difference of 100 yards, but if you aren’t in the right area, there’s no chance,” Keenan said.

He added that UK Power Networks (UKPN), the company in charge of energy distribution in London, has an idiosyncratic approach to allocating resources. “You have to tell UKPN what you want, pay all the money they ask for upfront, then wait for them to tell you whether it’s a goer,” he said. “I wish I could run my business like that.”

Another issue is that to achieve the Uptime Institute’s Tier 3 rating, a data centre must have a back generator. As Keenan explained, this is not always easy given the air and noise pollution laws in the city.

There are, of course, data centres located much further afield vying for UK business. One example is a facility currently being built in Kajaani, a seven-hour drive from Finnish capital Helsinki. As Chris Miller of Power Harvest explained at the event, the data centre occupies the site of a disused paper mill on the river Kajaani. This is because the site’s industrial past means that it has ample energy supply – there are three hydroelectric power stations on site, with a maximum capacity of 30MW, as well as an 80MW bio-energy plant.

Power availability is just one of many considerations to bear in mind when choosing a location for a data centre, and just one of the factors that engineering consultancy hurleypalmerflatt and real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield built into their Global Data Centre Risk Index, a guide to the best and worst countries in which to build a data centre.

The two firms carried out a study of 20 markets across the world, assessing important characteristics including energy costs, available bandwidth and the ease of doing business, as well as tax, labour costs and the rate of natural disasters.

The United States came out as the least risky country in which to set up a data centre, while the UK was ranked fifth. There were one or two surprises among the high- ranking countries, such as Qatar, which was ranked seventh overall. This was due in part to its healthy economy. China and India were among the riskiest destinations, as was Japan, reflecting issues with reliability after the recent earthquake.

“Power reliability and security are both major issues,” hurleypalmerflatt’s chief technology officer, Robert Thorogood, told the conference. The impact of cloud, the evolving economics of power and electricity and the spread of IT resources around the globe are just three of the factors that mean that, while consolidation is a factor, the data centre faces a diverse and varied future.

Beatrice Bartlay

Beatrice Bartlay founded 2B Interface, a temporary and permanent staffing agency in 2005 and has since been serving the UK recruitment sector with specialised services. With more than ten years’ experience...

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