“We’re using our miserable weather to our advantage,” jokes Danny Quinn, operations director at DataVita, which in early October opened the doors of its huge Fortis co-location datacentre in Scotland. In order to ascertain how the facility could capitalise on indirect free-air cooling Quinn had to consult historic weather patterns. “I had a spreadsheet with 30 years of weather and honestly it was the most depressing spreadsheet… it wasn’t even extreme, just beige. For 92 per cent of the year it’s below 16 degrees Celsius.”
Scotland has strong claims to be being the most beautiful country in the UK but its weather is more useful for golf course watering than attracting visitors. But the cool climate is a boon in the datacentre world where dispersing heat generated by densely stacked servers is a key operating factor. It’s surprising then to hear that Scotland has so lacked in datacentre investment.
“In Scotland we have a real shortage of datacentre space,” Quinn says. “There’s never been a purpose built [co-location] datacentre – they’re converted sheds. It was always: ‘what is the compromise [we can make]?’”
Scottish businesses now have access to fast compute capacity, storage and communications pipes at this four-hall 4,000 square metres site. The Fortis building is in Chapelhall, close to both Glasgow and Edinburgh off the M8 motorway that is also laced with fibre.
Quinn says internal datacentres locally are aging and something had to be done to accommodate local enterprises, were they not be reliant on datacentres often hundreds of miles away. One example: digital TV movie downloads had to go all the way up and down the UK because of the lack of local infrastructure. Yet Scotland claims the 43rd largest economy in the world and is bolstered by Edinburgh’s financial services sector, North Sea oil, as well as its famous textiles, whisky and fishing businesses. There’s also a huge public sector that provides over one fifth of jobs.
No white elephant
Quinn had to fight a perception that datacentre projects would become white elephants as plans for facilities had stalled in the past.
“Ten years ago you could have ended up with an empty datacentre. Timing is critical and of course you need power and connectivity. There was a history of datacentres not getting built and the feedback was ‘here’s another datacentre that won’t get built’.”
Unlike the case across the sea in Ireland there were no incentives or tax breaks for the DataVita build-out but Quinn says Fortis has made a strong start in Phase one of what will be a modular expansion. He says that the shift to cloud computing and new trends such as the Internet of Things will accelerate demand.
Quinn also praises the role in the project played by the Uptime Institute, a body that issues datacentre guidance and certification.
“We want ultimately to give transparency to our customers,” he says. “We’re looking at how we build, how we prepare SLAs, and the ultimate test has to be how resilient is the datacentre is. The only way you can do that is to follow a methodology as a proving exercise and having a fresh pair of eyes overlooking us is hugely valuable. We’d like to be the first of a digital revolution here and for it to thrive.”
It’s possible. Scotland has thriving games software and life sciences sectors, for example, and work has started on another big datacentre project in Glenrothes. IBM still has its business continuity services operation in Cumbernauld even if it no longer builds PCs there. But other factors could also play a role in seeing more datacentre activity: Scotland only narrowly voted to remain part of the UK two years ago and the UK’s vote to leave the European Union has led to calls for a second referendum. These decisions further highlight the importance of data residency. “Data hubs will be important geopolitically,” Quinn says, diplomatically.
As for the weather, well, there’s nothing Scotland can do about that.
PREVIOUS ARTICLE«C-suite career advice: Nader Mikhail, Elementum
Jon Collins’ in-depth look at tech and society
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond