For many of today’s businesses the M25 motorway marks the end of the universe – at least when it comes to the corporate data centre. There cannot be – so the received wisdom goes – any life outside of that giant sweet spot: business demands cannot allow it. It is therefore something of a calamity that London is now ‘full’.
For years, London has had an abundance of network connectivity, electricity and land which has allowed businesses to sit their data centre in close proximity to their operations. This has ensured that users experience minimal latency when using applications.
However, in recent years sites such as Canary Wharf and Docklands have become congested; there is now fierce competition for the few remaining sites within the boundaries of the M25 with sufficient power and connectivity. That in turn is convincing some business leaders to look further afield, exploring uncharted territories for the enterprise data centre.
Undoubtedly, says Michael Eaton, director of information age strategy unit of the Welsh Assembly, e-Wales, there are some businesses – or more pertinently, some applications run by some businesses – where latency will remain critical. In such circumstances, applications will have to be housed near to day-to-day operations.
Nevertheless, many of today’s applications can cope with a few milliseconds of latency, and that widens the range of the ‘habitable zone’ for the corporate data centre considerably, he notes. Potentially, enterprises could keep a core, mission-critical, minimal latency data centre within the costly environs of the M25, while moving some applications further out, to cheaper locations.
In such cases, Eaton hopes that UK businesses may take note of the model employed by Internet giant Google. In the US, it has built massive new data centres on sites formerly occupied by steel mills, thanks in part to the abundant supply of electricity.
Wales too has plenty of sites Eaton believes offer similar advantages. As Eaton points out, two of the most prevalent industries in the country’s history are steel and coal. “And those were power hungry industries,” he says. “Those industries went away but the power grid that supported them didn’t. In some respects you could say that we have accidentally found a useful legacy that we never knew we had.”
A further advantage Eaton hopes to promote is connectivity. Wales has long-since benefited from trans-Atlantic fibre links coming into its West coast; furthermore it was the first site to undergo a major communications network upgrade as part of BT’s 21CN plan to build a UK-wide IP-ready network. “The nature of communications infrastructure is a fundamental underpinning asset that we need in order to support a knowledge economy business,” notes Eaton.
However, simply having a profusion of suitable sites for data centres will not guarantee that companies will relocate their existing operations, admits Eaton. Wales is fighting for a segment of the market that will accept application latency, and there are many other regional development agencies that too are keen on attracting such businesses. It is therefore likely, notes Eaton, that local building regulations could help sway the decision.
The Welsh Assembly has already introduced targets which stipulate that all new buildings constructed after 2011 should have a zero carbon footprint. Such proposals are not there to deter businesses, says Eaton, but instead to encourage the use of sustainable and energy-efficient technologies which will benefit businesses. We are trying to accelerate the development of sustainable energy policies, he says, and challenge the pre-conceptions of “how green a data centre can actually be”.
This is a bold vision, using the legacy of Wales’ industrial past to catapult the province into a sustainable, eco-friendly future. But it is one that Eaton is fiercely proud of.
“We have a vision. ICT is fundamental to our future economy and our future social fabric,” he says.