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UK data centres - The unsung heroes of the tech revolution?

The last 20 years has seen the cementing of The Information Age, characterised by seismic shifts in consumer behaviour thanks to the onset of the digital revolution.

Technological developments have led to massive simplification of information technology for the average consumer, and our everyday reliance on apps and social media has come to dominate and change our fundamental behaviours - leading social scientists such as Nicholas Carr (opens in new tab) to question if technology is even rewiring our brains given how much of an extraordinary impact it has had on every day professional and personal life.

We’re all familiar with how Apple led the way with easy to navigate, amazing looking smartphones and tablets and that the proliferation of apps and social media content accelerated change all around us. However, if apps, social media and cloud were the 21st Century equivalent of the gold rush, then arguably data centre operators are the guys selling the pick axes and sieves.

Data centre traffic from the cloud will likely account for 83 per cent of the total data centre traffic in 2019, as compared to 61 per cent in 2014. Machine-to-machine communication should also proliferate data flow across devices, along with BYOD (bring your own device). In turn, these will create a requirement for network and computing platforms. As all of us, as a business user or consumer, create, use and store more and more data, of course what comes with it is the role of data regulation and protection. Companies who store data, of whatever nature, need to abide by certain rules, rules that are about to become a lot tougher and more stringent with the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that’s to be implemented. This further underlines the important role data centres play in protecting and storing data appropriately and legally.

Performing as the fundamental backbone of the internet therefore and hosting all of the data that gets uploaded, shared and stored, data centres do however get relatively little interest or commentary versus the ‘sexier’ user-side technologies. In fact, for many of us it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Until of course, something goes wrong. More than ever before the value of securing, backing up and encrypting your data is absolutely vital regardless of what industry, sector or market you work in or however large or small you are.

This therefore begs the question: Are we right to pay such little attention to the very industry that powers our digital economy? Well of course we’d say no. And here’s why:

  • When you browse the web, search for information, purchase from a retailer or send out your latest social media update it is of course data centres making that happen. The last Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales figures (opens in new tab) topped £3 billion in the UK alone and are increasing substantially year on year - those numbers are bigger than the entire economy of many countries meaning the pressure for a reliable data centre infrastructure is greater than ever.
  • The Big Data explosion has created mind blowing statistics: doubling the world’s information every year and a half, and forecasts (opens in new tab) of 40 zettabytes of data generated by 2020 (that’s the equivalent of 625 billion 64GB iPads). And where does that data sit? Data centres of course.
  • But of course this growing dependence means an ever increasing dangerous consequence of downtime. US figures place the average cost of downtime at $747,357 or $8.851 per minute. If all 242 colocation data centres in the UK went out twice a year total losses could be in excess of $360m - or enough to buy everyone in Birmingham a 64 GB iPad (should they not already have one contributing to the stats above).

So, data centres are important and in the UK, recent events have made them even more so. According to a recent survey (opens in new tab), more than 1/3 of organisations in the UK will be more inclined to store their data in UK-based data centres following our official exit from the European Union. The expected tougher regulations and data privacy rules with the incoming GDPR ruling in the EU may affect data housed outside of the UK’s borders leading many IT owners to actively question where their data is stored, how it is stored and how it is protected.

It’s therefore safe to say that as long as there is a continued proliferation of smartphones, tablets, apps, social media and the increasing use of cloud, and while the politicians continue to slug it out over data sovereignty, the future looks bright for UK data centres.

Increased amounts of data can only mean the construction of more data centres - there can’t be one with the other, they both go hand in hand. We look forward to sharing that future with you.

Jack Bedell-Pearce, Managing Director, 4D (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: Welcomia / Shutterstock

Jack joined 4D in 2007 and since then has overseen the rapid growth of 4D, winning, along the way, multiple green awards for retrofitting their data centre with cutting edge cooling technology and becoming a Deloitte Fast 500 company 4 years in a row.