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The data centre in a post-pandemic world

Adam Bradshaw

Adam Bradshaw

Commercial Director at ServerChoice
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Image credit: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock.com

The end of free testing and the recent lifting of all Covid restrictions are markers of the nation steadily entering a post-pandemic period.

Although this process is a gradual one, the realities of Britain without Covid-19 restrictions are already starting to be felt in many corners of the data centre industry.

OFGEM’s lifting of the energy price cap only applies to households – however, it is symbolic of the rising cost of energy that is threatening data centres that are either unable to absorb the added cost or pass it on to the customer whilst remaining competitive. Cybersecurity risks are also continuing to mount, posing further challenges to the quality-of-service data centre providers can offer.

To continue to effectively underpin the digital service of the UK, data centre providers need to seek out innovative ways to meet the challenges that are already at the doorstep.

Energy costs

There is no escaping the soaring price of energy. Indeed, the cost of energy has been a strong contributing factor in forcing Sungard’s UK operations into administration and may yet prove to do the same to other data centre providers.

The most expensive line item of the balance sheet for data centres has always been energy prices, therefore cost efficiencies must be made in this area, which ultimately means lowering the power usage effectiveness (PUE). While hyperscalers can do so through large-scale measures such as investing in wind farms purely to power their data centres, there are a number of measures for those lower down the scale.

A simple measure like blanking panels can be easily introduced to most data centres and provides an immediate way to optimise airflow throughout a rack and prevent the mixture of hot and cold air, reducing the energy requirements for a cooling system to meet its required temperatures. Identifying idle servers with intelligent power distribution units (PDU) will also serve to reduce overheads, with a detailed analysis of power consumption giving providers the information to only pay for what they use.

Improving energy efficiency goes beyond lowering costs. Data centres are competing against a range of alternatives, most notably public cloud. Due to changing customer priorities, energy efficiency has never been higher on the agenda. Providers that are able to demonstrate the effectiveness will secure and retain more customers in the marketplace we now operate in, especially in the context of data centres going into administration.

Security

The rise in data breaches and ransomware attacks that we have seen since the start of the pandemic has only been catalysed by the recent events in Ukraine. To help protect against growing threats, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) recently released new guidance on how data centre providers can build a holistic strategy, encompassing both digital and physical security.

The new guidance is extensive and thorough. However, it was lacking substance in one of the most pivotal areas of security – culture. Individuals are the biggest security vulnerability in any organisation. This is why Nvidia recently announced it was implementing a Zero Trust model for its data centres following its network breach in February and what makes reports of exploited temp staff at Google’s data centres even more concerning.

Data centres are relatively low staffed organisations, but that is no reason to neglect to build a work culture that prioritises and actively engages with all security measures. While data centre operators understand the value of data as an asset far more so than other industries, there are many steps that can be taken to ensure employees actively engage with cybersecurity.

Gamification is one such measure. Aside from making cybersecurity measures a fun activity as opposed to a procedural bore, it also allows leaders to actively monitor adherence to cybersecurity and fosters a culture where individuals are not punished for the mistakes they make. As with any organisational culture shift, it is led from the top down, so it is paramount those at the executive level practice and endorse any gamification measures.

Conquering the challenges ahead

After a successful period of growth throughout the pandemic, overcoming the volatility of the market, the data centre industry is already starting to face a series of new hurdles. The situation with Sungard illustrates the existential threat energy prices can pose to data centre providers, while the manifesting of a cybersecurity threat will undermine both consumer confidence and the ability of a data centre to deliver on its offering.

Those with adequate adaptability to best improve energy efficiency and the innovative thinking to match that of bad cyber actors will be best placed to meet the growing challenges.

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