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Feature - 29 September 2021 (ComputerWeekly)

Riskier business: How Brexit could change downtime risk and resilience in the datacentre

As the UK enters the final quarter of its first year post-Brexit transition, the risk picture for local datacentres remains unclear.

Objects in your rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear. For datacentres, that driving warning might also apply to risk forecasting – with Brexit, Covid-19, supply chain shortages and other global uncertainties blurring perspectives.

Adam Bradshaw, commercial director at colocation and disaster recovery (DR) provider ServerChoice, agrees that it is difficult to pinpoint the Brexit effect – but “it’s very easy to find excuses”, with typically risk-averse datacentre operators taking a longer view than most.

Operations managers typically pre-prepare for resupply or governance issues, for instance spreading risk and diversifying supply well in advance. That said, security of supply has been “paramount” of late, says Bradshaw.

“What happens if we need to stop burning diesel, or make sure that, at the very least, we have resupply on-site with the types stipulated within agreements with our supplier?” he adds.

ServerChoice regularly tests agreements – including conducting dry runs with fuel suppliers to ensure they can be called on “at any given time”, and can be on-site and ready within a given period. Datacentres need to ensure diverse customer and supplier bases, even across multiple exchanges, says Bradshaw.

“It’s not just an overarching agreement where we say we’re going to be online 24/7,” he says. “It’s that we have tested every component in the supply chain.

“Customers tend to be far better informed now than two years ago. I think they are more sceptical of ambiguity – is their data actually in Dublin, or somewhere else?”

Adequate engineering skillsets are available 24/7 and more flexible contract terms might suit customers that may be struggling with risk to their own businesses as a result of the UK becoming a third country, says Bradshaw.

He downplays sustainability pressures, however, noting that cost reductions from efficiency can dovetail with some greening activity while saving money. But there is potential there for increased cost in coming years, he concedes.

Brexit, naturally, mostly affects the UK and how it works with the European Union (EU) – and it complicates the risk picture.

Global risks further blur DC view

Risks affecting datacentres globally include the flatlining of power usage effectiveness (PUE) and demands for greater sustainability, rack densities, server utilisation, skills shortages and supply chain problems, according to the Uptime Institute’s global survey of datacentre operators.

Chris Brown, chief technical officer at Uptime, notes that improving PUE may entail a compelling economic reason to build datacentres or switch to liquid cooling, unless energy price rises accelerate the sustainability imperative.

“What datacentres have today is sufficient for cooling what they have and the price per kilowatt-hour [kWh] is not high enough that a small change in PUE will have an effect,” he says. “Older datacentres that can’t be retrofitted or upgraded continue to hold on.”

Increased compute load requirements are not yet driving huge changes to server technologies. However, manufacturers are expecting to need more heat-sensitive, generative components in every box, which means rack inlet temperatures must come down.

This is likely to entail more compressor-based cooling – which a lot of PUE improvements have been based on so far, says Brown.

Managing – what you don’t measure

Meanwhile, measuring sustainability metrics such as water usage effectiveness (WUE) and carbon usage effectiveness (CUE), which remains neglected, is expected to be mandated in multiple geographies.

Also, an ongoing datacentre staffing and skillset shortage could make it harder to manage and mitigate outages – which, although less frequent, are having heavier impacts, partly because of increased digitisation.



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