How can the UK maximise the benefits of the growing data centre industry?

The increasing demand for data and the surge in AI technology are driving rapid growth and evolving needs in the data centre sector.

Google’s announcement earlier this year that it would be investing $1bn (£0.79bn) in a new data centre in Hertfordshire is more good news for the UK. This development comes as a continuation of the government’s November press release, which highlighted Microsoft’s commitment to investing £2.5bn in the upcoming three years to establish artificial intelligence (AI) infrastructure within the country.

The global demand for new data centre space is being significantly boosted by AI. Nevertheless, even prior to this surge in space needs, the industry was encountering numerous obstacles. The availability of power stands out as the most significant limitation on the growth of data centre hubs both in the UK and overseas.

Another obstacle lies in the scarcity of contractors and individuals possessing the necessary skills. Moreover, this challenge is further compounded by the ongoing energy transition, as both investors and legislators insist on data centre operators taking measures to minimize their carbon emissions.

We are witnessing adaptations in response to these limitations, however, for the UK to spearhead the shift towards a digital economy, as proposed by the government, a significantly more strategic approach to planning and power is imperative.

The impact of AI will revolutionize nearly every industry, leading to a significant surge in our requirements for data processing and storage. A prime example highlighting this exponential growth is ChatGPT, which experienced a remarkable increase from zero to 180.5 million users within a span of just 12 months.

Everyone has been watching the major players intently. And now we are seeing hyper scalers such as Microsoft and Meta making their first moves.

There’s no answer to what will be needed, While some AI data centres will need to be close to the cities and industrial hubs they serve, those used for training or machine learning can be located more remotely, in Scotland for example.


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