The increased growth and reliance upon social networking, internet shopping, e-billing and cloud based services provided by companies including Google, Apple and Microsoft is multiplying the need for data storage from the private sector while the increased growth and reliance upon IT in today’s business world has resulted in many firms no longer being able to manage their own IT systems in house. All of the above has resulted in an increase in the requirement for more and larger data centres. To date Ireland has punched above its weight in terms of the number and size of data centres per capita. The multi-million investment involved for even the smallest of these centres has a major positive effect on employment and the economy.
Data Centre’s Requirements
The increased growth and reliance upon social networking, internet shopping, e-billing and cloud based services provided by companies including Google, Apple and Microsoft is multiplying the need for data storage from the private sector while the increased growth and reliance upon IT in today’s business world has resulted in many firms no longer being able to manage their own IT systems in house. All of the above has resulted in an increase in the requirement for more and larger data centres. To date Ireland has punched above its weight in terms of the number and size of data centres per capita. The multi-million investment involved for even the smallest of these centres has a major positive effect on employment and the economy. Bearing in mind the economic benefits in constructing and operating these centres and particularly having regard to the UK Brexit vote, we examine issues brought to our attention in the course of advising clients on data centres which need to be addressed to protect future investment in the sector.
Up to 75% of data centre operational costs are power related with Apple’s proposed data centre in Athenry reported to be capable of requiring up to 300 megawatts of power should it be developed in its entirety. Herein lies the first potential future issues for constructing additional data centres in Ireland - Power. In this regard there are two issues, creating sufficient power and delivering it to the correct locations.
While the power requirements of modern data centres have reduced significantly, with modern data centres producing ever improving Power Usage Efficiencies (PUE), the demand for more data centres creates greater power requirements. A large part of the power efficiencies in Ireland is as a result of free cooling due to our ambient temperatures and relatively low humidity levels (a major positive in comparison to other locations). While Ireland has an unlimited supply of cool air, electricity capacity in the future is of concern particularly in the right locations; where power and fibre meet. It is in these areas that data centres congregate and where infrastructural requirements are greatest with all locations on the main fibre networks not being equal. Geographical areas where fibre and power meet and where data centres have clustered include, Clonshaugh, Ballycoolin, Clonee, Grange Castle and City West.
Whilst data centre operators do not have an issue in spending millions of euro in providing the requisite infrastructure, adequate capacity and a fast turnaround in providing consent for the construction of the required infrastructure including sub stations is required. We are aware of a recent requirement for a substation to facilitate the construction of a large data centre directly adjacent to a 220 KW powerline where the facilitator was prepared to incur all costs and there was still a 9 month delay in providing the required consent.
Furthermore, in the context of the recent Brexit vote, our reliance on fuel and power from the UK needs to be assessed. The Celtic Connector is a proposed 600 km subsea cable between Ireland and France allowing for the transmission of 700 MW of power which would reduce Ireland’s reliance on the UK for electricity through the East West Connector which connects Ireland to Wales, providing a more diverse source of power. Bringing this line on shore in a separate location to the existing power lines would not only increase power diversity but would also provide new locations where data centre construction can take place.
While power represents the largest portion of the operational costs of data centres, the most important infrastructural element to data centre users is access to fibre. In all instances access must be varied and secure, with access to the fastest networks being of most importance to the financial sector (trading in shares and currencies etc).
Ireland’s connectivity has greatly improved in recent times with the recent construction of two transatlantic cables, the AE Connect from Killala, Co. Mayo to Long Island, New York and the Hibernia Express from Garretstown, Co. Cork to Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. Connectivity to the UK is also good with connections to mainland Europe being heavily reliant upon cross UK fibre. Considering the recent Brexit referendum, the over reliance on these lines is questionable. Fortunately two separate direct lines from Cork to Nantes and Lannion in France are under construction and are expected to be functional in 2017. As with all connections for an island nation, it is important to maintain a large, diverse source of connectivity to reduce over reliance on any one source and in particular, it will be important to encourage the fastest and most robust services not only to protect connectivity but to place Ireland on a superior footing to our competitors.
Finally, comes the issue of staffing these facilities. These facilities are not operated by college graduates who decided at university level to study data centre operations but rather a diverse mix of IT and engineering professionals who have served the equivalent of an apprenticeship within other data centres with a large amount of senior staff coming from abroad. Considering the rate of growth in the sector, it has become apparent that staff shortages could be an issue if the rate of expansion continues. As such, it is important to provide an environment where specialist employees are willing to move to Ireland including positive tax practices and improved housing provisions.
While the economic benefits of data centres have been questioned of late with the low number of direct employment in their operations and their intense infrastructural requirements, their location in Ireland strengthens our links to these large multinational companies who have ever increasing staff located in their other facilities within Ireland.
To enhance Ireland’s overall offering both to IT and potentially to financial institutions who also have large data centre requirements, the various items outlined herein will need to be monitored and addressed to maintain Ireland’s international appeal.
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