Andrew Fray, UK MD at Interxion examines the changes to the data centre community brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to our lives. Businesses of all shapes and sizes have been forced to quickly adjust to the ‘new normal’, and the data centre sector is no exception. Critical decisions have needed to be taken to protect employee welfare, keep facilities operational and customers’ businesses connected.
However, all that also means the pandemic has changed leadership in the data centre space as well. As the volume of data consumed continues to rise due to swathes of people working remotely, and a growing reliance on e-commerce and digital entertainment, leaders are having to find ways to ensure business continuity, while following government guidelines and ensuring the safety of employees.
Impacts of a new normal
Before discussing how the pandemic has impacted leadership in the industry, it’s first important to understand how Covid-19 has impacted the data centre industry overall.
I cannot imagine a business which has not been affected by the virus, whether it is the demand for their product or the ability to supply it, based on labour or materials. Many of the most affected, both positively and negatively are in the press on a daily basis and it remains to be seen how severe and for how long the impact will be for customers.
Thankfully, to date the data centre industry appears to be faring well as customers require data and the capability to move it and connect to it.
In the initial weeks of the outbreak and subsequent lockdown, we saw the volumes of data increasing as travel was restricted, communication became remote and e-commerce became (almost) the only way to trade.
Furthermore, companies began to examine their overall networks. Everyone was hopping on calls, rather than hopping on planes, and that meant assessing whether networks (including data, fixed and mobile) may need to be upgraded or reconfigured to maintain security, capacity and scope.
Demand for colocation data centre space and cross-connects came from the predictable verticals; digital media (video streaming, gaming) and cloud. There has also been reports from around the industry of substantial growth in demand for educational access to cloud platforms.
As for practical, operational impacts, data centre staff were included by the UK Government as key workers, meaning staff were granted exemptions from lockdown and travelled freely to keep facilities online. Having staff on-site meant following all the emerging hygiene protocols
Our environmental cleaning and safety measures were immediately put in place to address the coronavirus pandemic and included everything from personal hygiene safety practices and symptom awareness, cleaning product specifications, enhanced and specialty cleaning procedures, to compliance with public healthcare guidelines and governmental regulations.
Our teams already clean all our facilities and offices to the ISO 14644 standard, so the main change from Covid-19 has been more frequent cleaning of areas and surfaces in use, taking extra care and limiting routes for staff moving around.
At our London campus, we put in place several measures to stay open and fully operational, and keep everyone as safe as possible. Like most, we’ve asked customers to only come to site for critical work.
We’ve been able to support customers with hands and eyes, installation and equipment unloading and storage. When they do come to site, we follow now-normal protocols – questioning about travel and symptoms, taking temperatures, social distancing and hygiene, and if necessary, PPE.
On the whole it’s very much ‘Business as Unusual’, just like business as usual but a little different.
Leading through collaboration
I’m pleased to say the leadership response in our company and in our industry has been remarkable. Firstly, implementation of business continuity plans has been seamless, and information has been shared freely within the data centre community and in constant contact with UK Government.
The role of the TechUK Data Centre Group has been pivotal in this and Interxion has been heavily involved with the Group in influencing Government thinking and policy towards a sector that had been largely overlooked until now.
I think it’s important to mention that there has been a focus on mental health as well as physical wellbeing from the community.
Being classified as a ‘key worker’ can come with added pressures for some, and leaders in our industry have been sharing insights and seeking guidance on how to ensure our teams feel safe and supported.
Long-term impact on the future of data centres
I would argue it is possibly too early to predict future impacts, and that the lasting effects of the pandemic still remain to be seen. However, I do believe the issues that have been brought into greater focus by lockdown measures will continue to be prominent for our customers.
These include being more agile in where IT resources are deployed, having more choice of connectivity providers, and a recognition of the need for futureproofing and continuity plans. The trend towards enterprise deploying workloads into cloud, hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments was strong before Covid-19, but this will now accelerate.
One thing I hope to see emerging is a continued and accelerated focus on protecting the environment, now that we have seen the reprieve lockdown has given to nature.
I hope the climate focus builds, as businesses recalibrate for a post-Covid-19 world to be driven by data-intensive applications, running at scale; one can think about working as the norm, and virtual tours if travel is restricted.
As an industry we are grateful that Covid-19 has not hit our businesses as hard as others, and that we have been able to keep our communities connected. However, we would not have been successful in maintaining ‘business as usual’ without the expertise of our teams and the collaboration and insights of the industry.
The experience of navigating these strange times has given me renewed belief that the data centre industry is in good shape, and its leaders are prepared to face whatever challenge comes next.