Data centres: Ready for their starring role
Our world has dramatically changed in the last few months due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. We find ourselves working from home, helping our children transition to online learning and building community bonds in a time of social distancing. What is at the heart of this transition? The data centre.
More than ever before, data centres are part of the critical global infrastructure. They are a key piece of the jigsaw allowing us to not only live our lives in these disrupted times, but supporting the backend infrastructure for the most essential services we rely on. Hospitals are using digital healthcare platforms to care for patients. Ambulances and police departments are managing emergency services via data centres. Government cabinet meetings are taking place over video conferencing. Finance ministers are coordinating with central banks and other financial institutions to keep the global economy afloat. Companies who are shifting their manufacturing capabilities to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment are using digital systems to readjust their application models.
Because of this, the Irish government, like many around the world, has recognised data centre personnel as part of its essential workers list. It is a responsibility our Host in Ireland partners do not take lightly.
“We know our customers are running critical infrastructure, so understanding their business continuity plans and how we can help support them is more important than ever before. Proactive communication between our clients and data centre teams is one of our top priorities right now,” said Gary Watson, country manager for Ireland, Keppel Data Centres.
In many ways, data centres have been prepared for something like a pandemic long before the rest of the world was. Planning for contingencies is the foundation of a data centre build. According to Maurice Mortell, managing director for Equinix in Ireland, “We are doing this kind of preparation on an on-going basis. We run these ‘war game’ simulations each month to understand how we would deal with all of the eventualities for something like a hurricane, a power outage or a pandemic. The process is the same, but the fact [the COVID-19 pandemic is] everywhere is unusual, but not unmanageable.”
“More than ever before, data centres are part of the critical global infrastructure. They are a key piece of the jigsaw allowing us to not only live our lives in these disrupted times, but supporting the backend infrastructure for the most essential services we rely on”
While keeping customers online and systems running have been key priorities, data centre operators have also gone through extraordinary lengths to support their employees. Digital infrastructure designers, builders and engineers continue to turn up on-site everyday, with limitations of who has access to the site to protect the physical health of the teams. Mental health awareness in many organisations has also been a priority as employees adjust to a new way of working.
“When people and organisations aren’t used to remote working, the key thing is to have trust in your employees and don’t make them feel like they have to justify their time,” said Seamus Dunne, managing director at Interxion. “The work is the work and it will get done. Encourage them to switch off and take time off to separate family and home life from work, especially for parents who have to independently home school. That wellness side is just as important as the health side.”
At a time when traditional factories are closed, data centres continue to operate and play a significant role in keeping the economy moving. Here in Ireland, they are a part of the largest export industry, ICT, responsible for €86 billion in exported services per year. We have come to depend on data centres to deliver the data we need in the same way we depend on the electric company to ensure the lights go on when we flip the switch. This is the digital front line of the pandemic as availability of data provides a sense of normalcy amidst the uncertainty.
The true heroes are, of course, the healthcare workers and those doing all they can to keep us fed and supplied with our household necessities. They have our unending thanks for the long hours, personal risk and commitment to our community each and every one of them is demonstrating. But it is worth a moment to acknowledge the work those in the data centre industry are doing to make sure our new normal is robustly connected in these challenging times.
Garry Connolly is the president and founder of Host in Ireland, a strategic global initiative created to increase awareness of the benefits of hosting digital assets in Ireland