Why we need a global context when it comes to Data Centres and Ireland
Written by Garry Connolly
Data centres are not a recent development in Ireland. As a country we’ve attracted the companies responsible for what we now classify as ‘data centres’ since the 1960’s. From mainframes to mini-computers, personal computers, connected networks to cloud computing, Ireland has been home to the biggest IT and data providers in the world such as DEC, Nixdorf, IBM, Motorola, Gateway 2000 and Dell for decades.
As a result we’re at the forefront of the 4th Industrial Revolution and positioned front and centre for emerging technologies such as autonomous cars, smart cities and artificial intelligence. In this newest revolution electrons are the new flax and fibre optic cables are the new railroads creating, storing and distributing the end product called data.
This new revolution is driven by this data and the emergence of on-demand compute and data storage in facilities commonly known as data centres or the cloud.
The sheer volume of data now being created by individuals, machines, sensors, business and governments around the world is astonishing. If you assume that one byte of information is a grain of rice, there is now enough data in the world to fill 12 times over the Pacific Ocean. By 2025 there will be 160 times the amount of data in existence or enough to cover the entire planet from the deepest ocean to the highest peak thirty times.
Our (Host in Ireland’s) latest quarterly report on the data centre industry in Ireland shows that over €1bn this year is being invested in data centres. While its a sizable investment it still only represents just 1% of the total investment in data centres each year globally such is now the scale of the industry.
In Ireland, there are currently 46 data centres and as with any evolving successful industry however there are challenges of success.
Energy usage, sustainability of the industry and efficient use of land are cited as reasons not to locate data centres in Ireland by detractors but these issues are not unique to Ireland and are common challenges in the other global Tier 1 locations.
Data centres currently account for 2% of greenhouse gas and consume circa 4% of all energy globally. In response the data centre industry is tackling its energy usage by investing heavily in improving their efficiencies. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple have added Renewable Energy First mandates to their global culture as when power is one of your main cost base it makes sense to lower that cost as much as possible
In Ireland for example both Google and Microsoft recently announced investments in renewable energy sources with Microsoft signing a 15 year deal with GE to secure 100% of its power generation from a wind farm in Kerry. Google alone have invested over $3.5bn globally in renewable energy projects to guarantee 100% of its power comes from renewable sources.
In fact, the portion of renewable energy available on the national grid is a core consideration for data hosting companies when looking at investment locations. This is driving state investment in renewable energy projects with countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden regularly promoting their high levels of renewable energy to attract investment. In Ireland, the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme will drive an additional 500MW by 2019, enough to offset the current power usage by data centres, according to a new report. The potential is there to go much further.
The Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which is the measurement of power efficiency in data centres, has been falling year on year across the industry as investment in efficiencies come to fruition. In 2007 the average PUE was 2.5 compared to an industry average now of 1.5. Google recently released a report revealing a PUE of 1.12 with experiments in the US looking to lower the PUE of data centres to 1.04 or 99% efficiency.
The thousands of jobs announced and supported each year by both the technology and finance sectors are largely underpinned by data centres where latency and speed of data retrieval are crucial. A recent report by Facebook found that for each direct full time position created in a data centre, it resulted in a five-time increase in jobs created and supported indirectly in the wider economy. The report also estimated that for every $1m spent in capital investment, 13 jobs were created in the economy as a result.
We need to think medium / longer term when it comes to data centres and Ireland, the “Oxygen” of the 4th Industrial Revolution is Data and where the Data is Hosted provides another strong and lasting reason why Ireland can and should remain in its centre and the forefront of this digital led revolution.
I look forward to a time when globally Data Centres are seen as part of the solution and not as is often the current case seen as part of the problem.
About the author
Garry Connolly is the President and Founder of Host in Ireland, an industry-led initiative to promote Ireland as an optimum location to host data and digital assets.