Debunking the myths around data centres

Garry Connolly, Host in Ireland
Garry Connolly, Host in Ireland

Data centres are more than empty warehouses, they're legitimate job creators

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23 November 2020 | 0

In association with Host in Ireland

If it feels like you’ve read this headline a few times before, you’re not imagining things. The discussion around busting data centre myths has been around for quite some time for a variety of different reasons. For policy makers, who are not necessarily technologists, clarifying misconceptions has been important as infrastructure decisions are made. For the general public, understanding data centres as more than a ‘big, mysterious warehouse’ is important as they have a real impact on our day-to-day lives. However, 2020 may be the year where this changes once and for all. 

The pandemic has made the role data centres play in our lives very clear. When lockdowns began eight months ago, we rapidly shifted to an online world to learn, work and entertain ourselves. Our new normal works because data centres are the engine running things. You could even argue that Netflix, Zoom and Alexa are really just brand names for the data centres behind the scenes. The fact that governments around the world classified data centres and their employees as essential industries is a testament to their significance. 

 

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Even with this increased awareness, there are still a few myths in circulation. One common misconception is that data centres are not job creators. Data centres are an integral part of the ICT industry in Ireland and underwrite more than 115,000 jobs created in the Silicon Isle. When you consider the history of technology companies in Ireland – from IBM in the 1950s to Microsoft in the 1990s to data centres today – there is a clear pedigree of talent within the industry. What may have started as floppy disk exports has now evolved into data being exported via fibre to the tune of €117 billion in computer service exports in the first half of 2020. All of which translates into an economic benefit for Ireland that serves to attract inward investment into the country.

The other question that emerges is can our growing dependence on data truly be sustainable. To that, the answer is yes. For the last 10 years, while data centres workloads have increased, data centre energy consumption has remained consistent. The International Energy Agency shows data centres as one of the few industries on track to a global clean energy transition. According to the report: “if current trends in the efficiency of hardware and data centre infrastructure can be maintained, global data centre energy demand can remain nearly flat through 2022, despite a 60% increase in service demand.”

In Ireland, specifically, we have a tremendous green electricity opportunity ahead of us. Ireland has the potential to generate 30GW of renewable electricity, far more than needed for Irish consumption. In fact, it is multiple of capacity more than we could possibly consume. While talk has been focused on how to export that power to other European countries, what really needs to be discussed is the opportunity to power a more valuable export asset in the form of data. The Irish Academy of Engineering’s (IAE) recent report on The Future of Electricity Transmission in Ireland validates this thought by noting “one could indeed argue that there is little point in constructing large amounts of renewable generation in Ireland and then exporting its output at exceptionally low prices. Official CSO and SEAI import/export data for 2019 indicates that the price of Irish electricity exports, which take place predominantly when wind generation is high, is less than 50% of the price paid to wind generators for that output under the REFIT regime.” 

For those of us in the industry, this year has crystallised why we do what we do and has helped the public better understand what we do. All of these discussions are extremely important. If you are interested in learning more, please join me for my new podcast Bits, Bytes & Banter where we dig into the tall tales that mask the important role data centres play in our everyday lives. I hope you’ll join us. 

Garry Connolly

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