Data Centre potential and challenges
Demand for data centre capacity has never been greater. With the COVID-19 pandemic creating a seismic shift in remote working capabilities and 5G not only on the horizon but imminent, data centre demand is forecast to increase tenfold by 2025 from the 2018 baseline  and this presents a number of opportunities, but growth will not be without its challenges.
Whilst demand continues to grow for data centres to handle the immense quantities of information generated on a daily basis by individuals and businesses, infrastructure needs to be put in place and appropriate consideration given to cooling and powering these units.
With government pressure for the implementation of carbon reduction strategies increasing, construction companies are likely to take a sensible and strategic approach to the jobs that they bid on. For data centres, this may limit companies to bid for contracts where there is scope for the inclusion of innovative features to reduce emissions or where the method of delivery is not predetermined, allowing successful bidders to deliver in an agile fashion.
Achieving Net Zero is likely to be a fundamental element of the tender process for any new data centre build, with sustainability roadmaps potentially becoming as commonplace as health and safety strategies.
Economy of Scale
Data centres are, by their very nature, expensive to run. However, with increasing demand comes the potential for collaboration and this is already being exploited by some co-location operators who rent space to third parties.
It is likely that co-locating multiple organisations within one data centre could be a driver for growth, as costs are shared and economy of scale is achieved.
With 5G imminent, being close to a server will be essential for the public and businesses that plan to exploit the technology to use it effectively. This may result in a greater number of "edge" data centres being commissioned.
These small facilities have not seen much appetite in the UK as of yet but the opportunities created by 5G and cloud computing will require a rapid response which edge data centres may be capable of delivering.
Data centres have typically been situated in cities such as London and Dublin, where infrastructure is already in place, but some industry experts believe that remote data centres could offer opportunities for carbon efficiency and network expansion.
Further investigative work is required to determine whether the lack of existing infrastructure in more remote areas will be the hindrance that some believe it to be. Should feasibility studies identify sufficient cost-benefit, then it is likely that a greater number of data centres will emerge in areas that are outside of cities.
Building new data centres can take upwards of two years, so where possible, remodelling existing spaces can create impressive timeline and cost savings. By replacing inefficient and outdated equipment with new, high performance technology, it is possible to increase the capacity of a data centre without increasing its footprint.
Equipment and Materials
The cost of raw materials remains high and some necessary commodity items such as steel, generators, switchgear and semiconductors are still challenging to secure. Where material shortages exist, this can drive increased cost into project bids and have a major impact on delivery timescales. There is a possibility that this risk is deterring some contractors from bidding for work at this point in time.
One would imagine that securing an appropriately trained workforce to deliver next-gen technologies would be simple, but with the volume of vacancies currently held by the construction industry at record levels, difficulty in securing a workforce may be a reason for data centre installations stalling.
Addressing this issue will take a concerted effort and a multi-pronged approach. Some in the industry are focusing on graduate and apprenticeship schemes to bolster their workforce, whilst others are actively headhunting staff from other industries that have relevant transferable skills to join their teams.
Build Space is a specialist talent solutions provider to Main Contractors and Specialist Contractors working on Mission Critical projects. We have an unrivalled candidate network and have supplied Management, Technical and Commercial staff to some of the largest Data Centre projects in the UK, Europe, EMEA and US. To find more about our work in this space and about our deliberately different approach to team building, drop us a line at our Bankside HQ.