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Polycrisis! Addressing the Industry's Biggest Challenges: Highlights from the UK Data Center Event

Data Centre World UK recently concluded in London today. It featured staggering growth forecasts amid a contient experiencing a surge in new data center projects with escalating global demand for digital infrastructure services.  Many challenges are at the forefront:

  • demand is outstripping supply
  • power access and supply chain issues persist
  • and legislation and sustainability issues loom large, to name just a few.

That last one reminds me of the saying: “over-regulation is the EU’s superpower”.  I’m glad I’m not running a datacenter in the Old World.

“In 50 years of data center design, it is clear there have never been more challenges at any one time than today,” said James Cesar, Head of Data Centers and Industrial for JLL Project and Development Services, before his opening address at both the Data Center Design and Build & Physical Security sessions at Data Centre World UK.  “We’re facing a polycrisis situation within data center design whereby as an industry we cannot just concentrate on one specific area but need a collective focus on all of the most pressing items to be tackled together.”


When I asked Midjourney to draw an illustration of “polycrisis” this is what it rendered.

“Polycrisis”…now that’s a fancy word I’m definitely adding to my arsenal.

A fitting time, then, for the thousands of data center industry representatives who once again took to the Excel Centre in the UK capital, poised to tackle these challenges head-on.

CBRE, known as one of the greatest commercial real estate service firms globally, recently disclosed an increased demand for colocation data center space in Europe overtook the supply in 2023, despite the presence of exceptionally large facilities being delivered all over Europe.

Several announcements have already been made this year, with corporations like Google, Microsoft, NTT Global Data Centers, Virtus Data Centres, Global Switch, Maincubes, and Starwood Capital Group all revealing plans to establish new data center facilities in Europe.

As per analysts, this escalating trend is expected to persist through 2024 and beyond.

Kevin Restivo, who is the Head of Data Centre Research, Europe, at CBRE, said to Data Center Knowledge, “CBRE speculates that the take-up levels of colocation data centers in London for 2024 might contend against the highest record of 139 MW set in 2022 because of the demand from enterprises and cloud service providers with AI requirements.”

Also at today’s Data Centre World UK event, Steven Carlini, Vice President of Innovation and Data Center at Schneider Electric, pulled focus on one of the industry’s biggest growth drivers: AI.  Carlini mentioned that while AI is causing “unprecedented change” in the world, the understanding is lacking when it comes to the increased burden LLMs are putting on data centers and power grids.

“When discussions revolve around AI, people usually focus on the end results and discuss its transformative power but it isn’t magic,” he explained. “It primarily relies on data centers and network capacity.

Carlini added: “The data centers we are constructing currently are not sufficient. They lack the necessary processing power, and there just aren’t enough.  Carlini pointed out that as power limitations continue to affect industries globally, technology systems like ‘peaker plants’, grid storage, and SMRs might become increasingly significant.

DatacenterThere is a growing recognition in the global data center industry of the need for rapid expansion to meet increasing demand. This was a central theme at Data Centre World UK, where sustainable scalability was a major topic of discussion.

Participants on the panel included Rabih Bashroush, a Professor of Digital Infrastructure at the University of East London; Jason Liggins from Crown Hosting Data Centres; Nigel Houghton from the European Space Agency; and Claudia Jaksch, the CEO of Policy Connect. They explored both the challenges and the potential in creating sustainable data center services.

In response to a question about how easy it is for buyers to assess the sustainability of the data center services they purchase, Houghton stated, “It’s incredibly difficult. When you’re presented with a large amount of information, it can sometimes be hard to determine the reliability… or even the relevance of some of the details.”

“There are all sorts of standards and awards and organizations that come up from data centers… It’s like a big game of data center whack-a-mole. Just when you understand what one certification means, another one comes up.”

Alongside vital issues concerning infrastructure, sustainability, and scalability that were discussed at Data Centre World UK, the crucial topic of sourcing – and maintaining – staff was also at the forefront of conversations.

Stephen Bowes-Phipps of State Street Bank, and Adelle Desouza, founder of HireHigher

In a bustling theater session in the afternoon, Adelle Desouza, founder of HireHigher – an organization dedicated to making digital infrastructure an attractive career choice for young talent – delved into the underlying reasons for the talent shortage and its effect on data center operations.

“The topic of talent has dominated keynotes, podcasts, LinkedIn posts, and tweets for some time now, but we’re struggling to see seismic change in this space,” Desouza said.

Ultimately, while the industry faces many challenges, JLL’s James Rix said: “There has never been a more exhilarating time to engage with data centers.” And with escalating demands for power and space, compounded by legislative complexities and pressing sustainability concerns, it will be the next generation of talent that rises to surmount these obstacles.



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1 Comment

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    April 1, 2024 @ 6:02 am | Reply

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