Over the past few months there’s been a lot of focus on data centres in the media and elsewhere. Unfortunately a lot of the debate around them has been either misinformed or wilfully misleading.
I write this from the perspective of a data centre operator.
Blacknight is a wholly Irish owned company. Depending on who you are you may know of us as being a hosting provider, a domain name registrar, an ISP or know of us through our advocacy in various fora over the years.
When I got into this business over 20 years ago things were very different. While many businesses back then were going online the entire “cloud” concept had yet to be invented. Accessing the internet from your phone was possible, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience or a particularly useful one. Most businesses were happy sending out letters rather than electronic bills.
A lot has changed over the past 20 years and nowadays we all live at least part of our lives using online digital services.
As we all know the last 18+ months have been far from “normal” and many businesses switched to remote working and took their businesses online where possible.
All of this was via data centres and the “cloud”. Data centres like the one we own and operate in Carlow or the data centres in Dublin and Cork where we have footprints.
While it would be impossible in a single blog post to debunk every single myth or misleading story about data centres I’ll try to cover a few of the more salient ones.
Myth: Data centres are all owned by big international companies
While many of the big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft own data centres in Ireland they aren’t the only companies that do. We own and operate our data centre in Carlow, while there are multiple data centres in the greater Dublin area that are used by companies such as ourselves and many others.
Myth: Everyone who builds a data centre gets generous handouts from the state
If only that were true! We received zero state funding towards the construction of our data centre in Carlow. We funded the build from a combination of bank loans, private investment and cashflow.
Myth: data centres use lots of water
None of the data centres we use have water cooling. While some data centres in Ireland might use water cooling it’s not “the norm”. A “closed loop” system is used in some, but that uses a fixed amount of liquid which is constantly reused.
Data centres guzzle power!
Yes. Data centres do use a lot of power. I’d never deny that.
However it’s over-simplistic to say that data centres use power without looking at the “how” and the “why”.
Ireland is a good location to build data centres because of our climate. The ambient temperature in Ireland is well suited to data centres as it never gets that hot or humid. The chillers for our data centre in Carlow have barely been used since the location went live over 7 years ago. Why? There’s no need. Most of the time we’re simply cleaning the air of dust and other particles.
PUE (power usage effectiveness) is a metric that you’ll often hear in relation to data centres and power usage. Essentially it’s a way to track how much power you need to run everything that’s around the servers, so if a server sitting in a rack pulls 1 kWh, how much electricity to you need to keep it cooled etc., The lower the number the more efficient your setup. So if you put a data centre in a hot climate you’d end up using a lot of power to keep things cool, which is not an issue we have in Ireland! (see above)
A server in an office won’t be terribly efficient, whereas one in a data centre will be.
Bear in mind what data centres get used for.
The “cloud” isn’t some magical place that is only inhabited by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
In real terms anything that is “online” is in “the cloud” as far as most people are concerned. Data centres not only enable websites, email and other online services, but they also handle the traffic to connect people and communities to the broader internet.
Myth: Data centres are used for deep state surveillance and data collection
I’ve no idea where this one even comes from. I suspect this stems from some of the abuses of private data by the likes of Cambridge Analytica and others over the last few years.
As an Irish company we’ve always been upfront about which data we collect and why, as would most of our clientele. And with GDPR in force since 2018 the stakes are high.
Most of our clients are small to medium sized businesses. They’re local shops, small businesses. Some of them are bigger and might be household names, but most of them aren’t collecting the vast quantities of data some people seem to think they are.