The European Data Center Market – Key Themes for 2023
Several of Europe’s flagship data center industry events fall into the first few months of 2023, kickstarting the new year with insights, trend reports and networking opportunities. In February, Host in Ireland brought all their partners together in Dublin and the Dutch Data Center Association hosted over 1200 delegates at the Kickstart Europe Conference in Amsterdam. In March, the industry congregated in London for Data Center World and TechUK’s hybrid Sustainable Cloud event.
Across all four conferences we identified seven key themes reoccurring during keynote speeches, panel discussions and networking conversations.
1. Data center growth is strong but public perception is a concern
Demand for data centers continues to grow with both take up and supply expected to grow. At Kickstart, CBRE’s Head of EMEA Data Center Capital, Paul Mortlock advised that they see the curve of demand steepening in the short term. Host in Ireland’s Garry Connolly shared some usage stats, from 7% of the data in the world being classed as social networking to a predicted average of 6 smart objects owned by each person by 2030, and a total of 50 billion smart objects in the world. It’s clear that our lives, and businesses are going to continue to be digital and rely on data centers.
However, public perception is a challenge. High profile media stories have concentrated on the energy used by data centers and sustainability concerns. At Data Center World one electronics manufacturer spoke about individuals not realizing how much their lives depend on data centers. This person reminded the audience of the important role data centers play in both our personal and working lives.
Data centers are here to stay, and we need them, but change is coming. Sustainability and improving public opinion are on the minds of larger corporations and hyperscalers and that will extend to the rest of the industry.
2. Technology is an enabler for progress
Data centers don’t just help us manage today’s digital workloads. They are a core enabler for innovation and the development of new technologies. Machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality, cobots, robotics and automated data analytics all rely on data centers in some form.
At Data Center World. Garry Connolly referred to the story of Priyanjali Gupta, an Indian engineering student who created an AI model that can understand sign language. Coupling her own skills with access to the internet, internet-based research and using an object detection API, she created a model that translates signs into English using transfer learning. Digitization and the cloud industry continue to enable progress throughout society.
3. Sustainability is a primary concern
Sustainability is at the top of the agenda for the industry. TechUK’s event focused specifically on sustainable cloud operations and at Kickstart Stijn Grove said, “The urge of creating a sustainable digital ecosystem has become more important than ever”. The digital infrastructure industry is constantly looking ahead and sustainability is a key focus area.
At Data Center World a panel focused on sustainability suggested that net zero commitments and carbon reduction goals are now firmly on CXO agendas. As organizations set goals for Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions reductions reporting requirements filter down throughout supply chains. Panelists in London reminded the audience that the ultimate goal is to prevent climate change, and not just focus on reporting.
4. It’s time to move beyond power usage effectiveness (PUE) when setting metrics for data center sustainability
At the TechUK event, Adrian Bradley, KPMG, discussed energy usage and the positive impacts of the industry’s attention on PUE. Growth in associated emissions has been slower than growth in consumption. This reflects the efforts in improving the technology and equipment used. He also noted the contribution of data centers in deploying modern digital solutions that curb emissions in the practical world.
Global Switch’s Kevin Burton shared this opinion in a Kickstart Panel on sustainability. He noted that despite the increase in data being processed, energy and water use has remained constant through innovation and ingenuity. Attention and focus have been directed to energy use with some success, however there are other areas with potential sustainability gains. Highlighting the industry’s narrow focus, Emma Fryer, ERM, at Tech UK noted that only a small percentage of data centers are managing and measuring hardware reuse.
5. Hyperscalers are setting industry standards
Hyperscalers are aggressively investing in sustainable operations and aspiring to achieve net zero emissions. Across all the European events experts including Google’s Cloud Sustainability Specialist Charlotte Hutchison, Head of Global Sustainability Strategy at Oracle, Elena Avesani and Alex Staton, Principal Azure Specialist at Microsoft referred to their organization’s net zero by 2030 ambitions.
6. We need to think about responsible use of data
Unnecessary data storage and dark data storage is on the rise. Individuals and many businesses are not consciously considering overall data consumption. Folders full or archived emails, thousands of camera phone images or tabs permanently opened on browsers are examples of unnecessary data use.
Gartner defines dark data as the information assets organizations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes (for example, analytics, business relationships and direct monetizing). With the embodied carbon associated with data storage and processing, we are reminded to take a conscientious approach to our data use.
7. Creative approaches will be needed to tackle the challenges ahead
Tackling the challenges ahead and optimizing on the opportunities will require new perspectives. At Kickstart, Paul Iske, from the Institute of Brilliant Failures, reminded the industry to stay creative. Paul shared his theory that there are two ways to get new perspectives:
- Ask lots of questions which gives you new insights that you can use, combined with your own experience, and
- Get new connections, exposing you to information from different places – unexpected information, which often makes you laugh.
Paul shared his model that shows the number of questions you ask multiplied by the number of times you laugh every day giving you a creativity score and avoiding the dreaded ‘terminal seriousness’! Combining different perspectives enables us to overcome the big challenges so this seems like a great message for the data center industry in 2023.
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