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Navigating the nexus: The multifaceted appeal of the data centre industry

Navigating the nexus: The multifaceted appeal of the data centre industry

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We highlight three pivotal factors set to define the appeal of the data centre sector in the future: the integral role of AI in driving market growth; the crucial impact of education initiatives; and the importance of community engagement in shaping the industry’s trajectory.

Although the immense influence of data centres on life on Earth has been evident for a while, the recent announcement of plans to construct a data centre on the Moon by the end of the decade was nonetheless quite unexpected.

If the extraordinary news we’re hearing holds true, it appears a data centre could indeed be built on the Moon before the end of this decade, as part of an expansive international effort to establish a permanent base on Earth’s nearest celestial neighbour.

While we can all speculate about the outcomes of such a project, it’s worth remembering that the recent advances in AI would have been considered the stuff of science fiction not so long ago. 

One thing is for sure – it’s clear that AI is here to stay, with its significance only set to grow in the coming years. As we look ahead, we can anticipate that AI will evolve in ways that are currently unimaginable, potentially revolutionising how we interact with technology and each other.

For the technology enthusiast, it’s all too easy to get carried away with the boundless possibilities that future AI advancements may bring, especially for the data centre sector. It provides all the more reason to watch attentively for what’s to come.

Integrating and optimising AI

“AI is set to become one of the largest growth drivers for the data centre market,” said Andrew Jay, Head of Data Centre Solutions for Europe at CBRE.

“Data centre providers are expecting to see continued, and significant, demand for capacity from companies with AI requirements in 2024, as end-users look to enhance their operations by leveraging Machine Learning algorithms.”

This view emphasises the intertwined growth of AI and data centre industries, signalling a transformative period ahead. This anticipated surge in demand, driven by companies seeking to harness Machine Learning for operational enhancement, highlights a pivotal moment for technological infrastructure development.

Education initiatives

Beyond AI, a range of additional factors will shape the future landscape of the data centre sector – without doubt one of the most important is overcoming the existing skills gap. Top of Form

The University Technical College (UTC) Heathrow and Partners initiative, which sees leading industry employers working in collaboration alongside education to create a solution to the industry’s on-going skills shortage, is expanding its reach to three further locations, following overwhelming success at its first digital infrastructure focused school, UTC Heathrow.

The initiative launched the UK’s first data centre focused curriculum, the Digital Futures Programme, at UTC Heathrow in 2021. Targeting individuals aged 14-19, the programme has been meticulously crafted by industry leaders to furnish students with the necessary expertise for technical roles within the digital infrastructure sector.

Jo Harper, CEO of ALET, said: “The UK is facing an unprecedented skills shortage: we need engineers, computer scientists and other digitally skilled staff. The Digital Futures Programme is focused on equipping students with the skills to succeed in the digital industries, bringing together companies which are serious about acting to address the skills shortage with STEM-focused schools with specialisms in digital, engineering and science prepared to forge a new path for their students.”

The roll-out was officially launched at an event attended by nine of the employer partners – Amazon Web Services, ARK Data Centres, CBRE, CNet Training, CyrusOne, Digital Realty, LMG, Virtus Data Centres and Yondr – at UTC Reading on 26 January 2024. These nine employer partners have committed to supporting all ALET UTCs that will be delivering the Digital Futures Programme and will be known as ALET Trust Partners.

Industry partners not only provide support financially and in developing the curriculum, but also by giving valuable time to deliver a mix of employer-led projects, challenge days, masterclasses and skills workshops to the students as part of the programme.

More importantly, it is already having an impact, with the first set of graduates from UTC Heathrow taking up apprenticeship roles with industry partners as a direct result of the programme. This is hugely important to tackling the on-going skills shortage across the industry.

Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET) and its supporting partners are proactively working to educate students in these important, transferable skills, helping to build a stronger, more sustainable future for the industry, as well as highlighting a new and rewarding career path option to the students.

Community engagement

Alongside the rapid ascent of AI and the promising development from education, there is escalating market demand driven by global digitalisation which is fuelling the need for improved operations. These factors are compelling the industry to emphasise the transformative potential of new technology, such as increasing capacity for improved efficiency, or implementing regenerative energy. However, the impact on local communities mustn’t be ignored as new developments progress.

“The evolution of our industry must extend beyond technological advancements to incorporate a deep understanding of the socio-economic dynamics and localised priorities,” said Peter Michelson, CEO, EcoDataCenter.

He continues to examine the current arguments of convincing local communities about digital services are outdated and overlooks a crucial aspect: the paramount importance communities place on the well-being of the area over broader global issues. While many individuals acknowledge the necessity of a green transition on a global scale, relying solely on this argument to garner support for a local data centre development may face resistance. The response often becomes a conditional acceptance: ‘we understand the global need, but not at the expense of our local community.’

EcoDataCenter’s efforts focus on engagement becoming more nuanced, emphasising shared benefits, collaborative growth and a commitment to addressing both global challenges and local interests.

“It is through this balanced and inclusive approach that we can hope to overcome resistance, build trust and pave the way for sustainable, community-supported data centre developments,” Michelson added.

Encouraging transparency and open dialogue – alongside the occasional but expected mix of misconceptions and shortcomings – is a crucial element to the progression of data centre technology. Too much resistance hinders projects, but some challenge is needed to ensure procedures are aligned with all parties involved. It is only when unity is achieved that the sustainable growth of the data centre can continue, and the influence of community is significant to this.

“Changing our industry’s appeal cannot be accomplished by one company or individual alone; we need to learn from each other and from every corner of the world,” said Michelson.

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