Data is One of the Hottest Commodities on the Planet

George Agamalis

Associate – Structures
The global data centre sector is forecast to grow to more than $160 billion by 2026, but what does the future hold for these highly sought after facilities that churn through gigawatts of energy?

It is estimated that there are currently seven million data centres across the globe. This is not surprising, considering the majority of governments and businesses require facilities to: store, back-up and recover data, manage the increasing volume of e-commerce transactions, power online gaming, and fuel big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

In 2020, the global data centre sector was valued at $74.9 billion and it is estimated to grow to $161.74 billion by 2026, with the key drivers of demand being digitisation, remote working, increasing use by SMEs, and the development of data-generating and data-hungry technologies.

The data centre revolution cannot be ignored and many who considered sitting on the sidelines and making do with legacy systems, were abruptly shaken by Covid. The pandemic underlined the important role that data centres played in ensuring governments and businesses were able to maintain some level of continuity.

While many think data centres are developed for leading technology giants to provide cloud-based services, there is a growing appetite by governments and businesses to maintain their own centres, or to take a hybrid approach based on their data protection requirements. Whatever the type of facility, they are home to the most critical and proprietary assets, and their importance to daily operations underpins why security and reliability, of the centres, is a priority.

Achieving security and reliability in our rapidly evolving digital world is becoming increasingly difficult. As the owners and operators of data centres will attest, the challenges have never been more demanding to guard against cyber attacks and ensure uninterruptible power supply.

Other issues that are emerging for this sector include uptime, supply chain, labour skills pressures, and headlining the list, is climate change.

Uptime – a data centre’s guaranteed annual availability – is always a front-and-centre issue, especially as more businesses embrace hybrid infrastructure, back-up and recovery, and fail-over strategies. It’s an issue that saw Facebook and Amazon both experience lengthy downtimes, in late 2021. The Uptime Institute noted, as the world becomes more dependent on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services, reliability will receive greater scrutiny and require further innovation. Although the number of outages has declined, the consequences of the outages have continued to worsen.

Similar to most sectors, data centres have not been immune to supply chain risk, especially in the wake of the tragic Ukrainian conflict and skills shortages.

However, the foremost issue that is keeping the owners and operators of data centres up at night is climate change and specifically, their response to mitigate the impacts of climate change. A JLL report, ESG Ambitions: Shaping the Future of Data Centres, spells out this issue in stark terms. Data centres account for three-to-four per cent of Greenhouse Gas emissions globally and their energy use doubles every four years. This brings into sharp focus the need for data centre owners and operators to use the next two years to ready themselves to be more sustainable and socially responsible.

Odd as it may seem, data centres, at the cutting edge of innovation in so many ways, yet they have a legacy that keeps them in the past. Old buildings and systems are simply not designed for a digital world, hence many in the sector are playing catch-up.

To join the world’s march to zero emissions by 2050, data centre owners and operators need to urgently embrace technological change. Ironically, a sector which has helped the majority of governments and businesses to change, must now undergo its own transformation – a green transformation.

At BG&E, our clients seek technical professionals that understand their business, industry and their customers – and can design data centres and mission critical facilities that are secure, operationally resilient (providing continuity 24/7, including during crisis), energy efficient and scalable.

In this vital sector, our portfolio of clients includes market leading technology, finance, property, healthcare and education companies, as well as governments.

BG&E has contributed to a state-of-the-art rapid deployment data centre for one of the world’s largest technology giants in Madrid, a 9,750-square-metre centre for a leading software provider in Vienna, and a mega-sized centre for a cloud-computing provider in Dubai, among others.

Sources: Palo Alto Networks, Data Centres Blog, 2022; ALSO Holding AG, The Future of Data Centres, 2022; The Data Centre Frontier, The Eight Trends That Will Shape the Data Centre Industry, January 2022; JLL, ESG Ambitions – Making Green Data Centre a Reality (Asia-Pacific), 2022; and Uptime Institute, Intelligence Group Blog, March 2022.

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