Highland fling

At last, Scotland’s cold and windy climate is finally being appreciated. If a batch of projects announced in recent weeks comes to fruition, Scotland is set to become a haven for some of the world’s largest data centres, thanks in part to the availability of renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power and a cool climate.

In November, Microsoft technology partner Alchemy Plus announced that it is planning to build a 20,000 square foot data centre in the Highland capital Inverness. Building the £20 million facility in the region will have low cooling costs thanks to the low atmospheric temperature, the company said.

Scotland’s climate has also attracted a $430 million (£290 million) project, backed financially by investment bank Morgan Stanley, to build a wave-powered data centre at the Pentland Firth, the stretch of water that separates the northerly Orkney Islands from mainland Scotland.

Atlantis, the company behind the project, is still seeking a partner ‘with a significant web presence’. Both projects await planning permission and hope to begin construction in 2010.

But the most staggering project of all is a proposed three million square foot (250,000 square meters) data centre in the Lockerbie area. If it goes ahead, it will be ‘the largest data centre in the world’ by some margin.

Wind power and a bio-mass generator will make a ‘sustainable contribution’ to the power demands of the data centre, according to Lockerbie Data Centres, the company behind the project. As with the Inverness site, the heat produced by the data centre will be redirected to heat local housing.

Some observers are not convinced of Scotland’s viability as a data centre destination.

Commenting on Atlantis’s Pentland Firth project, Jeff Paschke of data centre analyst firm Tier1 Research asked: ‘Instead of investing $430 million in unproven tidal technology in an unproven data centre market, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in data centres in proven top markets with strong data centre demand and supply?’

But one question may have been overlooked: can the mix of natural air-cooling and data centres co-exist with the lethal Scottish midge?

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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