Whether you’re an in-house IT manager, developer or collocation provider looking to build a new data centre, one of the most important decisions in the whole process has to be where you build it. Over the last 10 years various factors have been jostling for position as the most important consideration.

It is essential to recognise that each site is different and every company has separate requirements. There is no such thing as a one site fits all.

Still at number one….power availability

If anything, power availability has strengthened its lead at the top of the charts. We are not talking about the widely published shortage of network generation (which is a problem beyond the scope of this article) but more the severe limitations in the local networks that deliver the national grids power down to the local level. The lack of investment which made this a big issue ten years ago has continued to make this a larger problem.

What has developed is a greater consideration of onsite generation, generally with a “green” flavour to it. However, the opportunities to deliver sufficient quantities at marketable prices mean this is rarely an answer to avoiding the requirement for a grid connection.

There is a small silver lining though; and that is the drive for better PUE’s (Power Usage Effectiveness) to reduce the power requirement for a given technical load. However, don’t expect this to send power down the importance chart anytime soon, the accompanying dark cloud of increasing w/m² requirements means the total amount of power needed will continue to grow.

A non-mover at number two…physical risks to the site

Protecting your site and the valuable information that it will store, is of the upmost importance. This doesn’t just mean stopping intruders from entering the facility, but also guarding it against less controllable threats, such as natural disasters. The recent volcanic disruption in Iceland, demostrates how quickly businesses can go into melt down.

In May 2010, we saw severe flooding in Poland along the Vistula river. In terms of likelihood, flooding remains one of the most significant risks to any facility. Bunding and raising levels of the facility can help, but what about the substations you are connected to? Are they protected? Even worse, how about the fibre connection nodes?

The last 10 years has also seen the Buncefield Fuel Depot crisis in the UK; which affected a number of data centres. Although subsequent investigations led to changes in the procedures to prevent such an event happening again, would you wish your critical infrastructure to be located next to a fuel depot now?

Highest new entry, in at number three…environmental considerations 

Renewable energy has been mooted by the IT press as a possible source of additional power capacity for the last couple of years, but in reality the volumes required by even the most efficient data centre make wind, solar and even tidal energy of limited effectiveness. Even if you built an array of wind turbines on the site you’d still only scratch the surface.

However, the drive to lower PUE’s, targeted as the biggest waste area of cooling equipment, means there is advantage in locating your data centre correctly. Regardless of the technology deployed (free cooling chillers, direct or indirect fresh air) in simple terms the cooler the average outside temperatures the better. The north of the UK and Scandinavia are therefore locations which have received a lot of attention. There are latency considerations for these locations, so preference should be for sites located away from the immediate “heat island effect” of major urban areas.

The EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres is another key area that will need consideration as developers look to bring additional data centre capacity online. The Code is currently voluntary but, it is believed that it will become compulsory for data centre operators in the near future. It is therefore something that developers cannot ignore – unless they wish to face being forced to make substantial (and costly) changes to their facilities before they can bring them online and earn income from tenants.

The Code urges data centre designers, developers and operators to tackle the issue of energy consumption and imposes a responsibility and measures to improve efficiency in new facilities onto the operator. Climate change has risen up both consumers’ and business’ agenda over the last decade, and many existing facilities will not meet the EU Code’s standards if it becomes mandatory. For developers planning custom-built facilities that will come online within the next five years, understanding the implications of the Code on their businesses [and those of their customers] will be key.

Falling to number four in the site selection charts…fibre availability

While it is important that a new data centre has access to a high-speed fibre backbone, securing this, compared to ten years ago, is a problem that can generally be solved. The fibre networks have grown across all of Europe, with backbone now linking all major cities. It is unlikely this backbone will run past the front door of a potential site, but the cost of bringing sufficient fibre is relatively small when compared to other costs a development will face. For example, laying in a bundle of fibre is somewhat easier than a 100mm cross section power cable.

Second new entry, at number five…economic stability of the location

10 years ago this wasn’t even a consideration when developing a data centre in Europe. Now with the long term capital investment involved with a data centre, it is essential that developers look to build in a country with a stable economic outlook. Many of the countries offering the lowest land prices, are often those which appear the most unstable.

We are not suggesting that Governments will start seizing privately owned property, but even more mundane issues such as strikes to general works or worst those in the utility industries could have a severe affect on operations.

In summary, site selection for data centres remains a challenge, with some old problems and some new. As with so many complex decisions in life, the right answer is likely to be a compromise. It is unlikely a single site will tick all the boxes completely, but each individual occupier needs to look at the considerations and make their own judgement based on their business needs. What issues to include and the order of any list can be endlessly debated – with the exception of power at the top. What is clear is that the right list for one occupier may not exactly match the list of another.

Ultimately, IT managers, developers and collocation providers need to be aware of the issues they will face, and therefore make decisions based on the most complete information available.