Is data centre capacity now off the rack?

Rack space is still scarce in London's data centres, but indications are that an end to the capacity crunch is in sight, finds E&T.

Despite growing deployment of blade servers and virtualisation, the demands on UK data centres continue to escalate. However, the capacity squeeze of 2005/06 - when they were reported to be "bursting at the seams" - is not as acute as it was.

New data centres are coming online - even in London, where availability remains at a premium. London 3, for instance - COLT's third data centre in the UK - will be its largest facility in Europe when completed, offering 8,600m2 of useable space divided into self-contained halls. At the same time, its rival TeleHouse Europe has finished a £7.2m upgrade of its Docklands North and Metro sites.

The situation is also being eased by refits of existing data centres, and there is evidence that, with the shortage of managed co-location facilities, some of the capital's organisations that would previously have considered outsourcing data centre requirements are instead bringing them back in house.

New data centre build-outs in the Greater London area have been further inhibited by legislative requirements, designed to ensure that new data centres meet specific environmental requirements before planning applications are approved. It was felt that former mayor Ken Livingstone was intent on inhibiting data centre build-out in east London because of environmental convictions, and also because he feared that more data centres could compromise power supplies to the 2012 Olympics.

But this doesn't bear scrutiny as the Office of the Mayor insists it has nothing to do with the approval of planning permission that applies to data centres. However, industry insiders deem new mayor Boris Johnson to be more sympathetic towards data centre interests.

"Yes, there is optimism that the change of mayor might make life easier for data centre build applicants," reveals Alex Rabbetts, managing director at Migration Solutions. Broad-Group Consulting managing director Steve Wallage agrees: "I suspect that [Johnson] would be more data-centre-friendly."

What is not in doubt is that EDF Energy - which controls the East London power grid - will have to perform a balancing act in terms of ensuring supplies to commercial customers and a prestige state-backed extravaganza like the Games.

"It's true - all London customers are struggling for power," says Migration Solutions' Alex Rabbetts. "The power that data centres actually want won't be available until 2013 at the earliest."

In the meantime, what about customers who have no alternative to siting their data centre requirements close to the centre of the capital? Qube Network's chief technical director Thomas Howard points out that location and power constraints are not the only militating factors. "Connectivity is the key driver that will dictate the need for data centres to remain sited in big cities [like London]," he says. "There's no avoiding the fact that many operators need access to the communications infrastructure that is concentrated in the centre of the city."

Howard believes that we will therefore see data processing and storage applications move outside the metropolitan areas, while the front-facing bandwidth-hungry online delivery systems and connectivity equipment will remain in the city centre, within a tight 'ping radius' of the online users. "The migration of power-hungry applications to the outlying areas will then free up space in central London data centres," he says, "and erode the business case for building more facilities in London."

This approach would mean that significant amounts of floor space would be freed up, Howard argues. Persuading customers that their data centre needs could be served by non-London-based facilities is slowly taking effect, says Migration Solutions’ Alex Rabbetts: "The balance is shifting - slowly. We're seeing growth of data centre capacity in northern regions like Leeds, Bradford, Merseyside and Manchester. Not only are the premises and permission easier, but personnel with the technological skills needed are becoming more available." However, make no mistake, Rabbetts cautions - "London will always be the data centre hub of the UK." 

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