Bored with Blighty? Relocation lessons for the data centre jetset

Green expertise, language barriers and constant cooling issues

Building a data centre in the UK is a difficult business: the land’s expensive, planning permission is tough and the operating costs are high, particularly where power is concerned.

As an epicentre of business and commerce, London is the obvious choice – it hosts the country’s major internet transit hub to boot – but it scores dreadfully on land and operating costs.

Power provision is archaic, too: spikes and drops are common, particularly during major events like the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee. Transport is another issue, with data centre operator Interxion installing sleeping pods on the co-location floor during London 2012 to provide staff availability and ensure travel disruption didn't translate into service distruption for its customers.

The logical step, then, is to go further afield. But what’s it like there, outside Blighty? Sure, go ahead and send the kit overseas, but as we learned from the rush to outsourcing, sending IT systems to other countries comes with hidden traps.

Having visited a healthy share of data centres around the world, here are my impressions.

The US is an interesting landscape when it comes to data centres, with facilities in all four corners and in between – even in places they probably shouldn’t be. The result is that the amount of concrete and steel required to protect these buildings are immense.

For example, facilities in the US states of Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana are routinely situated at the tops of buildings, rather than the bottom, to ensure that the precious and expensive equipment is well above the level of the seawater that rushes in during the frequent hurricanes. It all makes sense, of course, but logistically it’s awkward and means massively increases costs that ultimately get passed on in some form or another.

The costs of cooling data centres in hot climates – such as Florida and Georgia on the East Coast, or California and Nevada on the West – are also eye-wateringly high.

Buoyed by the plentiful local supply (and therefore, obscenely low cost) of fossil fuels, data centres have been cheap to operate in the US - and it shows, as most facilities feel every bit as though they haven’t moved on in design terms since the mid-nineties. They simply haven’t felt the need, because they haven’t had to.

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