Data center locations in North America and Europe have always been secure, tightly controlled facilities, but the events of 9/11 and the financial crisis brought on by the Enron and WorldCom scandals had rippling effects on the data center industry worldwide. Security and physical protections have been pushed to a higher level, and the regulatory climate intensified.
In the post 9/11 world, many data centers in North America and growing numbers in Europe have multiple points of security that include physical barriers like bomb-proof glass, prison-grade fencing and reinforced concrete walls as well as high-tech defenses including biometrics and various PIN and card combination entry schemes. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, most data centers were located in urban areas and backup and recovery centers were often within a close proximity to one another.
9/11 prompted private companies and government agencies to question if data centers should be located in urban areas with many United States-based companies electing to move to more rural areas. In European markets however, data center hubs remain in urban areas. Take for example the UK, where the majority of data centers are located in London’s Docklands neighborhood. If you examine the topography of London, the city’s skyscrapers are concentrated in this area, making the region a natural target for terrorist activity. Also, most of London’s power grid and connectivity exchange occurs in this area. If an attack were to occur here, it’s conceivable that Internet voice and data capabilities could be brought to the ground and the country’s financial infrastructure in severe disrepair.
Other factors that have had a profound influence on where enterprises choose to build data centers and illustrate differences between North America and European data centers include costs and concerns about natural disasters. Here again, the US has taken the approach that the best defense is site selection. Data centers in rural areas offer more space for implementing stronger data center fortifications such as military grade specifications dictating the space between the outside walls of critical buildings and areas of public access. Power costs tend to be higher in urban areas than in less populated regions and demand for power (and therefore more strain on the power grid) comes from urban areas which often experience power shortages or rolling blackouts to conserve energy.
It’s difficult to compare energy costs in North America vs. European markets like the UK because rates differ from state to state. For many the cooler climate and lower electricity prices in parts of Northern Europe have attracted many large, Internet-based companies to the region. Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter (News - Alert) rely on the “Cloud” to store and deliver their software as services. This requires enormous amounts of energy to run servers and keep them cool. It’s estimated that Google (News - Alert) consumed 2.26 terawatt hours of electricity last year – that’s more than the consumption of 200,000 American households. As Internet usage continues to increase, it makes sense for companies to prioritize data center energy use and take advantage of cooler climates or “free cooling” to reduce energy bills. Some areas of Europe offers this advantage.
For the space and power strapped London, additional challenges beyond the urban setting are present. This includes power supply concerns as the city gears up to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Any excess power that is left in London during the time of the Games will be diverted to the Olympics, leaving those data centers in the London area to come up with contingency plans for where to get the power and energy needed to ensure the data center is running properly at all times.
Next Generation Data Limited (NGD) looked to the post 9/11 American data center design as the new industry standard – deliberately building its 750,000 square foot NGD Europe tier 3 facility outside the Docklands area of London which has traditionally been Europe’s major data center hub for many years. The Newport, Wales location is ideally situated – offering the advantages of a low risk, remote location that’s within a two hour drive from London.
In addition to the security advantages a remote location offers, NGD Europe is able to provide its clients extreme real estate and energy costs savings compared to its London and North American counterparts. For instance, real estate leasing costs at NGD Europe run at around (£6 per square feet, compared to £25 in London or close to $40 in the US) I think it would be safer to be less specific and just say NGD Europe is typically half the price of London. The facility was the first in Europe to use 100 percent renewable energy sources and connects directly to the super grid via its own substation, ensuring a massive 180 MVA of resilient power supply. That’s enough to power a city the size of Charleston, S.C., at a mere fraction of the price for power connection in London.
While American businesses have been quick to realize the advantages of moving their data centers out of major metropolitan areas, CIOs at leading UK-based companies have been slower to embrace this thinking, instead relying on an outdated and expensive norm of having their data centers within London city limits even though, thanks to very affordable high speed fibre and sophisticated remote diagnostics, 85 percent of their typical data requirements can be more than adequately handled by the steadily growing number of large remotely situated tier 3 UK alternatives . Unfortunately for them and their shareholders millions of dollars go wasted on the urban data center, when more secure, more resilient and less expensive next-generation out-of-town options are now accessible.
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Edited by Carrie Schmelkin