Bringing the cloud back down to earth
Why data centres are an increasing part of the urban landscape
With the possible exception of underground pipes and cables, urban infrastructure tends to be highly visible. But one of the most critical branches of infrastructure – the servers that host today’s technology – are deliberately hidden from view.
Cold is not essential
The popular and well publicised image of data centres as being built in remote – and frequently cold – parts of the world is an enduring one. In part it stems from companies like Facebook and its decision to site its first non-US data centre in the Arctic.
But server technology has improved and the innovative data centre industry has been pushing boundaries, as a consequence the recommended operating temperatures for data centres have been allowed to creep up.
In the past decade typical data centre operating temperatures have increased by at least 10° Fahrenheit, (from 65° to 75°). And while no global standard exists for data centre temperatures, most follow the advice of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) which most recently (2011) recommended a temperature limit of 80.6° Fahrenheit.
Of course site selection is still of critical importance. It is largely determined by three variables – the availability of a truly reliable power supply, fibre connectivity, and the cost of land.
A loss of electrical power would be disastrous for a data centre, so all come equipped with backup generators and an Uninterruptible Power Supply as standard. Nevertheless a proven and reliable power grid – such as that of an advanced city - is a big selling point for a data centre location.
Just as urban areas will have a power infrastructure already in place, they will also tend to have the fibre connectivity that data centre operators crave. The proximity to such existing infrastructure is likely to make an urban location more economically attractive to many potential data centre developers.
Conversely, the cost of land is certain to be higher in a city than it would be in a remote or rural location. Ultimately the precedence given to these different variables depends on who the data centre is to be used by.
Three types of developer
There are principally three types of data centre clients: owners that design and operate their own facilities (Private or Public); developers that host; and providers of a managed service.
Private sector owner-occupiers tend to be the most innovative, invest in research and development and will typically customise their data centres to meet specific needs.
Developers and managed service providers, particularly those that are ‘Colocation service providers’ have a different brief: they want their space to be flexible, to offer the widest appeal to potential customers. Some are now employing a modular approach so that space can be developed and brought into operation as customers are signed up.
Have we got the power?
The US IT giant Cisco projects that global data centre traffic will triple in just a five-year period.
Just as our generation, and future generations, will continue to demand greater volumes of data in our personal lives, companies and governments are also demanding greater amounts of data storage and computing power.
Clearly, this has a direct implication on power demand and there is a continuing need for more data centres. These are seismic changes, and the urban landscape has a big role to play in them.