What are Data Centres?

Data centres are centralised spaces which contain a network of computers. These computers work together to collect, process, store and finally distribute huge amounts of data. These are within a carefully controlled environment, containing a multitude of servers, storage systems and routers.

Due to the mass of equipment required, data centres are constructed to efficiently optimise their use of space. This means they can house all the necessary equipment in a relatively small space.

As a result of this, environmental control is a huge factor when planning and constructing data centres. It is vitally important to keep all devices within a safe temperature as well as humanity range. We achieve this in modern day data centre builds through techniques such as liquid cooling and air conditioning.

Data Centre

Introduction to the Data Centre market

From business investors to legal leadership; everyone wants a piece of the market. The rapid growth in the demand for data storage will result in a construction boom over the next 5 years.

So what does the market currently look like within the data centre industry? At the time of writing, the North American region holds the largest share of the global market. This is closely followed by Europe, and Asia Pacific regions. This is in no small part due to the rising technological enhancements in the U.S and Canada. As well as the increasing popularity of community cloud in the region.

  • According to recent research, the DC market was valued at just over US$20 billion in 2018. This is set to rise to $65 billion by 2025.
  • The global data centre market is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 11% between 2017-2023.

The necessity for growth is mainly driven by an increase in organisations using cloud based services. This includes companies such as Google, Amazon and Alibaba who are constantly increasing their demand.

The growing interest in quantum computing is key to the global data centre trends which is set to positively impact throughout 2022.

As the number of data centre projects and investments escalate, this will drive the global data centre power market. The forecast estimated for this global power market is to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 12% between 2017-2021.

There are other data centres being built purely for a single company such as Facebook and Google. This is because these organisations see unprecedented volumes of information cycling through their servers. In August, Facebook announced that it would build a $750 million, 900,000 square-foot data centre near Columbus, OH.

External Data Centre

The History of Data Centres

Before data centres were constructed, they had their roots in computing rooms within the 1940’s e.g. ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was one of the earliest examples.

The trouble with early computer systems were that they were complex to operate and maintain. They required a great deal of power and had to be cooled consistently to avoid any overheating.

The initial boom of the data centres came during the dot-com bubble which was between 1997-2000. This was due to the established presence of the internet – companies needed fast internet connectivity. Companies across the world started building larger facilities which were named internet data centres.

Due to changes in data storage regulations, there was an increase in data centre developments by financial institutions between 2005 and 2008. This came to a halt in 2008 after the collapse of Lehman Bros and the associated financial crisis.

More recently, the growth in hyperscale investments has led to a dramatic increase in developments worldwide. These facilities are much larger and require different construction methods to the standard data centre. As well as a greater volume of engineers once they are in operation. A third of co-location capacity in the four largest European markets has come online since 2015.

The majority of current demand is coming from the hyperscale operators. There has been significant growth in Scandinavia where renewable energy is cheap, there is plenty of available land and a cooler climate. Ireland is also benefiting from the increasing demand for hyperscale facilities.

The UK is seeing investment from the hyperscale operators, but they are taking existing space in developments as opposed to building major campuses that are not commercially viable.

Why is the Data Centre market growing so quickly?

Why do we need more data centres? The number one reason is the ever growing need for more storage and processing power, due to the nature of our now ‘technological societies’.

Over the last two years it is recorded that, within this time frame, we have produced 90% of the world’s data. Data in the 21st century is power. This data is being used for informed business decisions and marketing purposes, as well as creating better customer experiences.

By 2024 it is forecast that data centre construction will have doubled from where it is today and within the next five years the global colocation market is forecast to reach $69.76 billion, with around 7.3 million square feet coming into operation every year.

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Constructing Data Centre

The UK data centre construction market alone is currently in excess of £1billion, with various major projects in the pipeline. Digital Realty forecasts that UK Data Centres will be worth $135 billion by 2025.

With rapid growth comes further skill shortage issues. As the demand for talent intensifies and workers are recruited, the available skills remaining reduces. Tony Jacob, Vice President for Design and construction at Digital Reality states there is a need to predict this demand. If they get the forecasting right, they can get everything lined up around it.

If we reflect on where the industry is and where it wants to go, we can find new ways of working. There is a need for standardisation. The DC market is set to build more, with a CAGR of 6.2%, averaging 7.3 million sq ft of new colocation data centre floor being brought online per year. By 2024, the global colocation data centre space will account to the equivalent of 1,830 football fields: 140.8 million sq ft, up from 104.2 million sq ft. (or 1,355 fields) in 2019.

The ever growing challenge for companies now, with so much data in demand, is storing it. This means there is no expectation for the industry to slow down… demand will only rise!

Growth Forecast of the Data Centre Market

The success of the industry has provided opportunities across hundreds of countries, including the UK.

At present, the UK’s data centre economy is estimated to be worth a staggering £73 billion. This is projected to reach up to £100bn by 2025.

The UK has set itself some high standards to become the lead of innovative business practices, which will encompass the data centre economy. There are three main features of the growth of data centres in the UK.

These are: investment, employment opportunities and the unknown. Here in the UK, we are always making sure that we are up to date with the latest technology trends. There is a definite need to adapt to the times.

According to Data Economy, we are set to see a 5-11% increase in investment into data infrastructure, alongside investment in tools that capitalise on the growth of the industry, identifying new markets and creating new revenue streams.

Internal Data Center

The goal is for the UK is to create new pathways to explore within the data centre industry. Unlocking doors that lead to new innovations within data.

As the industry is growing so rapidly within the UK, it will provide countless employment opportunities. The plans are to incentivise this to the younger generations, with suggestions to enhance the quality on subjects such as mathematics and computing science to prepare the younger generations for the change.

Despite the uncertainty of long-term outcomes, the growth rate of the industry shows no sign of slowing down. The industry is therefore bound to investment, regardless of the unpredictability. Ultimately, the UK has very promising prospects for the future of data. We should expect to see some significant innovations that the UK produces as time progresses.

Large cloud-based companies & products such as Amazon and Microsoft azure are affecting this growth. This is through advances such as cloud gaming, the IOT and growth of AI.

In the last 12 months, the amount of people using the internet increased by 1million per day.T here is now 95% penetration in Northern Europe, 95% in North America, and 63% in South East Asia. This rapid growth is forecast to continue as access to the internet increases on a global scale.

At the same time as the number of users is increasing, the way people use the internet is also changing at a rapid pace. Mobile is now accounting for an ever increasing share of online activities (48%). On average the world’s internet users spend 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day.

Couple on mobile phones

Google continues to dominate the world's most visited websites, with YouTube and Facebook taking spots two and three.

E-commerce is on the increase, with major Chinese players Taobao and Tmall ahead of Amazon in the top 20 for global traffic. Global e-commerce spend has grown by 14% year on year with the 2018 spend estimated to be US$1.78 trillion.

Studies show that 92% of internet users now watch videos online. 58% stream TV content via the internet and 30% play online games streamed via the internet. The next big development is set to be voice search with four in ten internet users now using voice commands or voice search each month. This is set to increase rapidly within the next 12-18 months.

In the business world, it is estimated that approximately 70-90% of organisations are using cloud based applications or storage. Gartner predict that 80% of all enterprises will shut down on-site data centres by 2025 in favour of outsourcing. This is putting ever increasing demands on the data centre sector. These developments result in increased users, demand for speed and information security requirements. This in turn increases requirements for data centre infrastructure.

Technical advancements in Data Centre engineering

Virtualisation

Virtualisation allows desktop users to run applications meant for different operating systems. It also allows the segmentation of a larger system into various smaller systems.

Mobile Device Management

There is a noticeable increase in personal devices appearing in the work environment. Phones, tablets, and PC’s are frequently being used as a way of conducting business.

Next-Generation Security

Due to the increased amount of data that we consume, we have gone far beyond the standard firewall. Security technologies have to revolve around controlling what is entering and leaving the environment. The solution is to monitor and control cloud-based traffic.

Cloud Computing

Advances in cloud computing significantly influence how companies operate. Advances within Hybrid cloud are expected to help businesses to securely store some data, as opposed to all data, and therefore improve efficiencies and reduce cost. Serverless computing will deliver flexible and efficient computing to organisations.

Crew in presentation

What new skill-sets are required to adapt to these changes?

One of the most problematic issues for the data centre sector as a whole is the increasing demand for skills. This has already had an impact on the roll out of data centres for hyper scale and co-location providers.

The data centre sector is a merging of three skill shortages sectors; IT, Engineering and Construction. The drive for investment into STEM will help train the engineers of the future, but it is essential that companies look to other sectors to solve the ever-increasing demand at present.

Companies are investing heavily to help find Data Centre engineers for the future, using some of the below methods:

Academic

Many companies are pouring money into education programs to create their own ideal teams.

For example, Irish engineering firm LotusWorks instigated the world’s first Bachelor's degree in data centre engineering. 

Mould Their Own

Some companies take things one step further, and train engineers themselves.

Schneider Electric says it has trained more than 1,500 critical environment technicians. These are then employed by the company to operate its customers’ data centres.

Transferable Skills

Due to the shortage of workers with specialised skills, the industry has been taking on those with transferable skills.

Technical engineers from the pharmaceutical, nuclear, building services, and the oil & gas sector often have the transferable skills required.

Engineers from the MOD often have transferable skills suitable data centre maintenance and delivery.

How have standards for construction changed?

As facilities grew larger, the costs inevitably increased as well. This means clients have shifted their focus to better efficiency in both design and function.

New technologies are constantly being developed, replacing older, less efficient methods. For example, direct evaporative cooling and separating hot and cold air streams have eliminated the need for raised floors.

Today's data centres are all about efficiency. Huge amounts of energy is required to run and maintain their computer systems, servers and high performance components.

Energy.Gov states that up to 3% of all U.S electricity is used to power data centres. This is why ideas in the way data centres are constructed are changing. New features are needed to reduce the load of the electric grid and help protect the nation.

Power Lines

Examples of Energy efficiency advances: 

Google are using innovative methods to cool their data centre in Hamina, Finland. Instead of using cooling systems that use electricity and burn carbon, they are instead using cold sea water.

This cold water acts as a cooling mechanism that replaces the cooling systems. This also doesn’t have to be used with just seawater, they also use rainwater for the same effect.

Google also use artificial intelligence to analyse and adjust their data centres in real time. These networks are designed to work through algorithms to help change systems to make them work more efficiently. These systems are quick and clever; evolving and learning to guarantee even more productivity. 

Apple is the largest US user of solar power and is using 100 percent renewable energy, in data centres known as green data centres. 

How are Data Centres kept secure?

Security within data centres has to be divided into two types; physical and software security. 

Security Camera

Physical Security

The buildings themselves will either be designed as a single purpose or multi-purpose unit. If it is the latter, and operates as a shared space it may house business unrelated to the data centre itself.

Data centres are usually built away from major roads due to the establishment of buffer zones. These zones which are made up of a combination of landscaping and crash-proof barriers.

As data centres have few entry points and no exterior windows, access is relatively limited. Security guards monitor inside the building, whilst surveillance cameras are installed along the outside.

Visitors on site may require two-factor authentication to enter. This can include scanning personal identity and entering a personal passcode.

Badge readers and biometric systems such as fingerprint readers and facial recognition may also be used.

Online Security

Digital Security

The most obvious thread to data centres and the data stored within is hacking and spyware. Tools such as SIEM are used to keep this under control.

These tools offer a real time view of the data centre’s network security. It also helps with the management of access to alarm systems and sensors on the perimeter.

Another way is to create secure zones in the network that layer the security in the data centre. This can be done by administrators splitting networks into three zones: a test area with flexibility, a development zone with a more stringent environment, and a production zone with approved production equipment.

Code will also be run through several tools and scanners to check for vulnerabilities in the system.

The rise of cloud computing means it is important to check for buffer overflows. Visibility into data is necessary as there can be malware hiding inside legitimate traffic.

Building Data Center

What does the future look like for Data Centres? 

According to JLL there is currently 63.4million square feet of data centres in operation and another 4.3million feet under construction. 

Smarter use of space:

A 65 story data centre concept has already been produced. This is the work of two Italian architects who are challenging the normal structure of data centres. Instead of the flat complex that takes up a lot of space, they are proposing to construct one that is at skyscraper heights. 

At this moment in time, it is just a concept, but they have received a lot of recognition for it. Its futuristic look incorporates sustainable technology, efficiently cooling hundreds of thousands of service, with an increased reliance on automation. 

This data centre was designed with Iceland in mind, with the intent that US and European companies can use it. Iceland's proximity to the Arctic enables natural cooling as it will be powered by hydropower and geothermal energy. 

The structure of this data centre is modular in design, and the servers are in pod units with 24 pods on each floor. They are made to be moved so that technicians can take them to the ground floor, where they can be serviced and maintained. 

The air inside the tower is hotter than the natural outside cool air, creating a natural chimney effect. The hot air travels up the tower and sucks in cold air from the outside, which passes through the servers and keeps them cool. The heat is then used to warm other parts of the building, as well as working as a supply for nearby greenhouses. 

As the consumption for data becomes more in demand, we need to embrace ways to make data centres better. 

Data Center Rack

More modular and flexible data centres: 

Modular data centres are a portable method for deploying data processing wherever it is required. It delivers large amounts of power within a tight timescale as well as with a small footprint. These have to comply with a project specification so are built and tested in a controlled factory environment. They are then shipped to sites and ready to be immediately installed. 

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Increase in Edge Data centres: 

The amount of data centres in development is expected to dramatically increase with the roll out of 5G. 5G requires faster downloads and greater efficiency, leading to an increase in the development of Edge data centres

Edge data centres are built closer to the users. They are designed to compliment co-location facilities by being developed closer to the end users. The data largely travels over a private high bandwidth network that can be rapidly scaled up if required. Being closer to the user helps reduce latency and connectivity issues associated with the cloud.  

How will an increase in the use of AI affect data centres? 

AI is used in the manufacturing sector for the predictive maintenance of technical machinery to reduce maintenance costs and downtime. 

Gartner predicts over 30% of data centres not utilising AI will not be economically feasible by 2020. 

Google and DeepMind have been researching using AI to optimize cooling efficiencies. It is stated that DeepMind's machine learning Algorithms has reduced the energy used for cooling by as much as 40%. The advancements in AI helps reduce the amount of energy used, by using technology that conserves the amount of energy being used to cool systems.

 AI will be a game changer for the data centre sector. It will require designers, developers, and contractors to work together to develop centres that can utilise the advances in AI to benefit the industry.

AI can also help solve the skill shortages. Using AI to conduct the more routine tasks enables data centre providers to expand quicker and reduce costs. 

Will a scalable environment affect construction methods/processes? 

Scalability is an important element when considering the design of a data centre. The facility must not only meet the requirements of today, but also future requirements and demands. Operators have to consider network scalability, critical infrastructure scalability, and space to ensure they can accommodate the increase in scale. 

Scalability is an issue for all types of data centres not just the hyperscale facilities. Edge and colocation centres also need the ability to scale quickly to meet demand while maintaining efficiency.

What are the unique challenges for Data Centres? 

With the adaption of new technologies such as smartphones and wearables, the need for data usage is continuing to grow… and at a rapid rate. According to IDC there are now 8 million data centres worldwide and there is no sign of the investment stopping. 

This does raise a few questions. Specifically, can we handle the amount of data being stored and how is it affecting the environment? 

Every year, data centres worldwide are draining country-sized amounts of electricity, even generating as much carbon emissions as the global airline industry. We need to be putting structures and tools in place which help to combat environmental issues. However, forecasting the technology advancements is due to the ever-changing circumstances. 

Informa recently surveyed IT leaders on their data centres practises and the research found intriguing. Astonishingly, energy efficiency was ranked fourth on their priorities. This is despite data centres already using 3% of the worldwide electrical supply. They also found that most leaders did not know their power usage effectiveness, which is the primary measure of data centre efficiency. 

Many centres are also kept at needlessly cold temperatures, which waste large amounts of power. This research shows us the challenges that we face in regards to how data centres effect our environment. 

Inside Data Center

Being energy efficient is one of the biggest challenges Data Centres face in the modern day. A single data centre can require the same power supply as an entire town. 

Stacked computers working non-stop which creates a lot of heat. To combat this, cooling systems are used to control the internal environment, which uses additional electricity. 

An estimated 30 billion watts is used to run every data centre. This is causing a whopping 17%+ of the carbon footprint caused in the technology sector. It is possible to use 100% renewable energy, however this is very costly. For example google currently use cold sea-water to cool its computers.

Sustainability 

As the amount of data centres increases so does the demand for energy. The industry has a key focus on exploring options to increase the use of sustainable energy. 

The storage networking industry association (SNIA) recently stated that 5% of global energy usage is by electronics. This is expected to grow to at least 40% by 2030, unless advances are made in electricity consumption. It is estimated that data centres will consume one fifth of global electricity by 2025.

There have been significant advances in natural cooling. The Green Grid published a survey suggesting almost half of all US based data centres now utilise natural cooling. Significant investment is going into improving sustainability, with rapid advances expected over the next few years as more efficient technologies are developed.

Solve the labour shortage in data centre construction

Diversity Within the Data Centre Industry

Something that has been pointed out continuously is that the industry would have more chance of filling vacancies by making itself more diverse. The data centre industry is relatively small which is why investments are being made to encourage as many forward thinking and skilled people to join, with a focus on improving the diversity of the workforce.

Within certain divisions of Google they have ensured 50% of the organisation is gender diverse as well as having 60% of women in leadership roles. Heather Dooley (Google Global Director) says ‘diversity is a magnet for diversity’. The success of Google is due to the attention to detail and the clear goal of wanting to move towards better diversity. 

Although, we cannot put the entire blame on companies, we also need to look at the efforts being made in the recruitment process. We have to be clear with recruitment teams and make sure that they are reviewing job descriptions as Heather Dooley points out that ‘you’d be surprised how much masculine language is used in them’. Which in consequence results in even less diversity within the application process. As a leading figure on Google’s data centre expansion board, she is pushing hard for change. The issue is not something that can be solved overnight but there are things we can all be doing to help manage the short term and long term shortages within the data centre industry as a whole.

Diversity is not just a gender specific issue. The sector needs to improve awareness of the industry as a whole to ensure that those seeking a new position or starting out a career consider the data centre sector as an option. A commitment to diversity will lead to improved productivity and retention, as well as bringing new ideas into the sector that will aid the future growth of the data centre industry.

Finding vacancies within Data Centre engineering

The data centre sector is a combination of Construction, IT and Engineering. Each of these niche specialisms has their own requirements. Finding people with the experience and skills to design, build, and maintain data centres is becoming ever harder.

Mechanical/Electrical engineers, project managers (MEP & CSA), quantity surveyors (MEP & CSA), and project directors are in demand across Europe, Asia and the US.

Candidates with a track record in the data centre sector are currently at a premium. Due to this, organisations are all competing within this small talent pool. Which is why they are starting to target candidates from other high technology sectors. This includes areas such as energy and rail.

As more data centres come in to operation there will be increasing demands for engineers and managers to ensure the operation of the facilities. There are simply not enough engineers with data centre experience to keep up with the pace of the sector. Shift engineers and data centre managers are in especially high demand in the UK and Europe.

What skills are required?

The skills and qualifications required will vary significantly depending on the specific role you are seeking.

Construction Workers

Construction

Engineers with a degree in mechanical or electrical engineering will be able to demonstrate the required technical know how to work within the sector. Equally those with an HNC in building services are equally high in demand.

Project Managers require a degree or chartership within an associated discipline (CIOB or CIBSE).

Quantity surveyors/commercial manager with an associated degree and MRICS are likely to find it fairly easy to secure a position within a market leading contractor or consultant. However any candidates with a track record in data centres will be high in demand.

Maintenance Engineer

Maintenance

Engineers must have recognised qualification within mechanical or electrical engineering, as well as a track record in data centres or critical environments.

Candidates from a MOD background are likely to have the necessary skills and technical ability.

Data centre managers will be required to demonstrate a track record managing a maintenance team. This will need to be within either a data centre or a critical environment.

What Qualifications / Experience do I need?

To enter the data centre sector it is key that you can either demonstrate the required qualifications or experience within a critical engineering sector.

Data centre experience is a preference but not essential. Experience within energy or a similar high tech sector will be sufficient for some organisations. 

The advice for those looking to enter the sector is to secure qualifications in related disciplines. The institute of technology in Sligo now offers a degree in data centre engineering. 

Graduate receiving qualification

If qualifications are not on your agenda, then you should look to gain experience on highly technical projects. Specifically those with significant scale. This will prepare you with the skills and experience to enter the data centre sector.

Alternatively, look to join a company that works within the data centre sector. This way you can look to move internally when the opportunity arises. 

Perks of working at a data centre

Travel

Data centres are a global industry. There are currently data centre both under construction and in operation across the globe.

With this comes the opportunity for global mobility. As more sites are constructed the opportunities for travel will only increase.

Opportunities

Technology within data centres is ever advancing. This means employers must offer learning opportunities to keep employees up to date with the latest developments.

The industry offers  the opportunity to train and develop in multiple sectors whilst still maintaining a niche career within data centres.

Prestige

Within the data centre sector you will have the opportunity to work on some of the largest and most technical projects worldwide.

It allows the opportunity to work at the pinnacle of engineering and construction.

Flexible Schedules

Each company offers different work schedules.

Most companies operate on a shift or rotation basis. These can often suit your lifestyle much better than the standard 9-5.

It is key to find the shift or rotation that works best for you and a company that can match these requirements.

Remuneration

What is important to you when considering the total package on offer?

Some companies offer larger salaries, whereas others offer more refined packages. These packages often include accommodation, allowances, education packages, and travel packages.

Be clear with what is important to you and find a company that can meet your requirements.

Cutting Edge

Data centre construction is a sector at the cutting edge of engineering and technology.

Therefore you want to work for a company that is one step ahead of the competitors.

Consider the investment the organisation is making into new technologies: are they planning for the future? In the data centre sector, if you are not moving forward then you are moving backwards.

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