By 2025, it is predicted that the average person will interact with smart devices 4,800 times a day. Over the same period, data levels are expected to increase globally by 400% and it is anticipated the UK data economy will grow to £145 billon. Data centres underpin almost every aspect of modern life, but to many, their purpose and importance to society is obscure. So, what is a data centre, and why do they matter, especially in a post COVID world?
In short, data centres provide the space, power and cooling for our network infrastructure. They house large groups of computer servers, designed for remote storage, processing and the distribution of data at scale.
On a smaller scale, ‘Edge Data’ has diversified the concept of the large scale ‘server farm’, moving data centres away from regional positions, to new localised areas closer to the end user. These facilities are increasingly required to be closer to high density centres to support business and population demands in our towns and cities.
Data now forms the most mobile commodity in existence and is critical to the new economy, with ‘invisible’ data centres operating as an integral part of every click, swipe or tap we make online. On average, each new data centre adds up to £622 million to the UK economy and the growth in modern data centres is driven by our appetite for digital infrastructure. This is only going to increase with the growth of digital industries, 5G and new, more diverse data sources such asdriverless cars.
Despite their pivotal role in society, the sector has largely been overlooked by strategic plan making. Planning has a vital role to play in promoting this infrastructure, facilitating the delivery of modern data centres and managing their integration into our urban environments.
Unlocking sites for these uses will help diversify the economy and meet the growing data demand. New sites have a range of requirements, including access to a resilient power supply and high bandwidth connectivity. There is an exciting opportunity in the built environment to promote the use of underutilised sites for modern data centres, supporting demand, generating new employment and helping deliver the infrastructure needed for the digital economy that will drive our future growth.
New development is often delivered around new infrastructure (roads etc) and we need to promote the benefits of clustering and co-locating complementary uses around new data centres, which could act as a catalyst for wider upgrades in infrastructure, driving inward investment and wider socio-economic benefits. We should also recognise the potential of ‘Edge Date’ centres, which have the ability to be integrated into existing neighbourhoods to meet localised digital demands.
Iceni are currently advising SSE and InfraTech Property Solutions on developing Digital Community Hubs, utilising lock-up garages to deliver EV charging sites in London, which may also include a form of ‘Edge Data’ and 5G tech infrastructure. Coupled with larger regional data centres, localised ‘Edge Data’ will be vital to the future of our towns and cities and their digital infrastructure needs.