Europe’s unprecedented energy price and supply crisis, brought about by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, has cast a long shadow on the UK datacentre market in 2022.
From operators being warned against winter power cuts to soaring energy costs forcing some firms out of business, it is fair to say the energy-intensive datacentre sector has not had a smooth ride this year.
With that backdrop, operators continue to be challenged to adopt sustainable practices and reduce the environmental impact of their facilities. The extreme heat and drought experienced this year in many parts of the world underscore why the sector must play a more active role in climate change mitigation.
- Apple’s bid to extend planning permission for its Athenry datacentre falls through
The long-running saga of Apple’s failed attempt to build a datacentre in Athenry, Ireland, finally came to an end this year following years of planning permission issues and court challenges.
In July 2022, the Irish High Court struck down Apple’s five-year planning permission extension granted in August 2021 after the decision was challenged in court via judicial review.
Allan Daly, a long-standing objector of Apple’s datacentre plans, posed the challenge to Apple’s plans to build a datacentre in the town, and its success casts doubt on consumer electronics giant plans to sell the site with the potential for datacentre development.
And now in the absence of active planning permission for a datacentre campus, the site has to be designated as an open space.
- Microsoft tries to clear up confusion about its European datacentres water consumption
Once again this year, the focus has sharpened on the potential contributions of datacentres to the climate crisis. As a result, operators are taking steps to reduce the environmental impact their facilities have on the environment and reduce their carbon footprint.
To this point, Microsoft found the water consumption habits of its large European datacentre campuses in the Netherlands have come under close scrutiny in light of claims that the company was consuming high volumes of water during the summer heatwave as temperatures across the continent reached record highs.
- An extreme heatwave shuts down Oracle and Google’s UK datacentres
The record-breaking summer heatwave proved to be a source of technical trouble for Google and Oracle’s UK datacentre regions in July 2022, resulting in both experiencing cooling system issues and outages.
In July 2022, the UK experienced unreasonably high temperatures that have been linked to climate change, which the Uptime Institute has been warning datacentre operators to factor into their disaster planning procedures for years.
- Datacentre overheating affect healthcare IT systems
Google and Oracle were not the only organisations to find their infrastructure failing in the face of the soaring summer temperatures in 2022, as Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust confirmed that the heat caused “significant disruption” to multiple IT systems the trust relies on to deliver services to its patients.
It resulted in appointments being cancelled and patients finding it difficult to contact the NHS trust and access some of its services, which is renowned for being one of the largest operating within the country.
- The Dublin datacentre warns of rising flood waters caused by climate change
An official warning in May 2022 rocked Dublin’s major colocation datacentre hub suggesting a number of facilities could be affected by climate change-induced flooding by the year 2100.
Data shared by climate technology company Cervest shows large swathes of the city could be at risk of being flooded up to 1.7 meters if a “business as usual” approach is used to address the climate crisis. Such flooding could have dire consequences for the city’s datacentres and power plants.
- Datacentre sector hits back at claims that it is exacerbating the housing crisis in West London
This year, a number of planning issues rose to the surface when national newspaper reports started portraying the datacentre industry as a power-hungry entity that is draining the West London electricity grid and exacerbating the housing crisis in the capital.
The claims were based on information provided by the Greater London Authority in July to property developers and trade associations. It is claimed that the electrical transmission and distribution networks in the London boroughs of Ealing, Hillingdon, and Hounslow suffered capacity issues due to the rapid influx of datacentres along the M4 corridor.
This caused developers of major housing, commercial, and industrial developments to express fear that this could lead to a ban on new homes because they would need to wait for “several years” for their builds to be connected to the grid.
- The datacentre sector prepares for planned power outages
In November 2022, energy supply issues emerged when details started surfacing about the preparatory steps operators were taking to keep their datacentre’s running if the National Grid’s warnings of planned power cuts became true.
Although the National Grid asserts planned power cuts will only be necessary for a worst-case scenario if gas supplies decline to critically low levels and renewable power generation fails to meet the demand, that has not deterred the datacentre sector from mobilising.
- Increasing energy costs forced Sungard AS into administration
Increasing energy costs have also had an impact on the datacentre sector in 2022, with at least one colocation operator entering administration. In this case, the firm was the UK arm of US-based colocation provider Sungard AS, whose decline was blamed on spiralling energy costs and dampened demand for its services during the pandemic.
Both of its financial reports for 2018 and 2019 state that the firm has been experiencing an insufficient demand for its services for some time.
As a result, certain datacentres and workplace environments have become unprofitable because fixed lease and energy costs are no longer offset by customer revenue, the company’s 2020 accounts stated.
- Outages at datacentres will continue to grow in severity, length, and cost in 2022
Uptime Institute data for June 2022 revealed that despite the best efforts of datacentre operators to reduce downtime at their facilities, the severity and financial impact of server farm outages continue to increase.
According to the organisation’s fourth annual downtime analysis survey, outage rates remained high despite “strong investments” by operators in technology to prevent downtime events.
According to Uptime’s 23-page annual outage analysis, the overall cost and impact of outages are not decreasing, as might have been hoped, but are, in fact, increasing. Investments in cloud-based and distributed resilience may have helped mitigate the impact of site-level failures, but they have also introduced error-prone complexity. A better management system and better staff training would help to reduce these failures.
- Crown Hosting Datacentre is confirmed as an uncontested winner of the £250 million, seven-year government contract
As public sector organisations continue to face pressure to cut costs, it comes as no surprise that the Cabinet Office’s joint venture with Ark Datacentres has been enlisted to host the government’s non-cloud workloads for seven more years.
One thing that raised eyebrows about this procurement was that no other firms were considered for the £250m contract awarded to Crown Hosting Datacentres, which government procurement chiefs attributed to the fact that it was the only British business capable and willing to provide it.