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Feature - 2 December 2020 (ComputerWeekly)

Datacentre operations are resilient and forward-thinking by nature, yet pitfalls and cost impacts are looming large with a potential no-deal Brexit on the horizon.

The ongoing soap opera from the UK government aside, the post-Brexit transition conditions for datacentre operators remain in dire need of clarification if businesses are to prepare in time for 1 January 2021. Especially if, as seems likely, a no-deal – or, at best, a bare-bones agreement – is on the cards.

John Booth, managing director of consultancy Carbon3IT, confirms he is hearing of longer supply chains and lead times. During Covid, inventory has been subject to short delays – and backlogs might build up partly as a result of socially distanced factories producing less.

“Getting in a transformer, for instance, would normally be about four to five months, and now I hear it will be six months-plus,” he warns.

Capital plant shortages in transformers or switching gear are possible. Chillers in stock might not work properly with equipment from different manufacturers. Kit such as uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) may integrate components from multiple suppliers. So operators should be reviewing supply chains, analysing where kit is coming from and looking for potential problems, including bottlenecks.

“For legacy datacentres, you should hold stock of your most used consumables on site. International or European datacentres should have a warehouse somewhere storing significant plant items,” says Booth.

Resulting cost increases can be expected to rise further in the case of a no-deal Brexit. Booth says some suppliers are estimating rises of 10-15%. And that’s before an operator has begun to consider potential issues around staffing and skills after Brexit, with a view to retaining access to European Union (EU) markets.

Personnel based in one country may travel weekly to sites in other countries. If they are UK-based, they’ll need passports with six months left for EU travel. Furthermore, countries may require PCR testing for Covid-19, with quarantine requirements to follow.

UK business travellers may need a separate visa for each EU country they expect to visit, with all the potential for costly backlogs and bureaucracy that entails. Employers may be expected to assist, but will they be prepared to do so by January?

“If one country puts onerous requirements on, other countries will retaliate,” Booth notes. “It will cause individual pain. You might even have trouble finding an apartment lease for a year because people at the other end will have to make sure they are complying with local laws.”

UK-trained electricians, engineers or other staff might also need to requalify for work across the EU. EU-qualified professionals only have to be recognised for one additional country; in a worst-case scenario, Brits might have to take exams for 27.

“Training companies will weave a path through the rules to accept UK equivalence subject to a certain refresher certification stack. Again, that will cost money and time,” says Booth.

Additionally, UK energy generation remains stretched, according to Booth, with new UK power stations a few years away and new interconnectors being built. Even 45-minute blackouts can have huge effects on, for instance, rail networks.

“Any disruption could be interesting,” he points out. “We only used to need the interconnectors from France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the evenings. Now it’s 24 hours a day. In 2010, there was a 10% margin [in UK generation], with assets they could fire up if something went offline. Now it’s down to 1%.”

Prepare for the worst

Andrew Buss, research director for European enterprise infrastructure at IDC, agrees there will be an impact of uncertain severity. So it makes sense to prepare for a worst-case scenario – especially since any deal looks unlikely to cover services.

“We don’t know all the assumptions we need to work to,” he says. “One difficult question will be market demand; one of the biggest drivers of colocated datacentre capacity and cloud has been, for example, connection services.”

Some customer segments, such as financial services, may continue to move assets and operations to the EU, likely affecting UK datacentres reliant on that market. Some of the gap may be filled by growth in other segments, however.

Business customers might reasonably be expected to continue moving towards colocation or even public cloud. This may even accelerate as the renewed emphasis on cost savings and sustainability alongside continued remote working after Covid means centralised office locations make less sense than ever.

Hyperscalers can often deliver power usage effectiveness (PUE) of around 1.05 within their facilities, while the top colocation providers frequently hit 1.1 or 1.15 – compared with a typical enterprise on-premise PUE of 2.0-2.5, Buss points out.

“Companies are realising it’s hard to build their own world-class datacentre. More and more, when it comes to refresh time, they’re going to look at colocation,” he says. “Why do you need an on-prem datacentre when you can rent space from a specialist providing lots of interconnectivity, reliability, resiliency, security and so on?”

Issues with visas and skillsets, despite the unveiling of the new points-based immigration system, remain uncertain to a degree, he agrees. However, much of IT training can be achieved fairly quickly, compared with – for example – the typical seven university years for medicine.

“Electricity is always a risk, yet we don’t know that anything will change. The assumption is we’ll still have power,” says Buss. “I think most colo sites are heavily redundant. If there are times when the grid is offline, they should be able to cope, and they’re probably going to be more reliable than your own home-built facility.”



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