Top 10 datacentre stories of 2023

The datacentre news cycle has been dominated by a set of familiar themes throughout 2023, as operators continue to find themselves under pressure to embrace sustainability, while juggling the exponential demand for compute capacity and ensuring uptime.

It is a delicate balancing act that operators have to strike, at a time when many of them are finding it increasingly difficult to find new sites to pop-up datacentres due to power and space constraints, as well as rising costs and planning permission disputes.

As 2023 draws to a close, Computer Weekly takes a look back over the year’s top 10 datacentre stories.

A post-mortem report released in January 2023 into a summer 2022 heatwave-related server farm outage at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust revealed the organisation was warned way back in 2018 about shortcomings in one of its datacentres’ cooling systems.

The impact of the incident was felt for several months after, with the Trust incurring unexpected IT costs in the region of £1.4m, after suffering – what the report termed a “potentially preventable event”.

A datacentre outage that knocked the social media site formerly known as Twitter offline for users across world prompted its CEO, Elon Musk, in February 2023 to halt work on downsizing its server farm footprint as a matter of priority.

The company also reportedly pressed pause on its plans to migrate more of its infrastructure to the Google public cloud in the wake of these issues, with industry watchers citing spiraling costs as a factor in that decision.

Finding viable use cases for the large amounts of waste heat datacentres generate has been a labour of love for the industry for several years now, but a story in March 2023 showcased how a mini-datacentre startup was using its setup to help create hot water that could be used by local businesses.

The startup – known as Deep Green – had deployed its mini-datacentres at a leisure centre in Devon and shared details of how, with the help of immersion-cooling technology, the warn air generated was helping supply the site with hot water.

With operators continuing to favour the building of datacentres in hubs that are already at close to full capacity, the industry faced renewed (and repeated) calls this year to think beyond London and the other major colocation hubs when building facilities to meet the growing demand for compute capacity.

Among them was the Scottish government, who pressed on with its multi-year push to champion north of the border as a viable, alternative location for datacentre investors to build new sites.

Financial services giant Legal & General committed to a seven-year datacentre migration project with IBM spin-off Kyndryl, as part of its push to accelerate the pace of its cloud-focused digital transformation plans, while also allowing it to maintain some of its infrastructure on-premise.

The deal marks a continuation of a long-standing technology tie-in between the two entities, dating back to 2010, with L&G leaning on Kyndryl to oversee the movement of its IT systems to a new datacentre, with the aim of simplifying its IT architecture while reducing the company’s technical debt.

Not for the first time, the annual datacentre industry survey by the Uptime Institute highlighted persistent shortcomings in the datacentre sector’s reporting of key sustainability metrics, with the think tank warning operators they will struggle to meet regulatory requirements around sustainability as a result.

And the metrics they do report are focused on areas that will predominantly save them money if efficiencies are sought, rather than helping the environment, the report added.    

Public cloud giant Google Cloud lifted the lid in October 2023 on some changes it has made to how its operates its server farms – that it claims has saved the company almost $3bn.

The company claims that extending the useful life of its datacentre servers from four years to six, and extending the life of its networking equipment from five years to six, resulted in a reduction in its depreciation expenses of $2.9bn and an increase in net-income of $2.3bn over a nine-month period.

While some operators have sought to extend the life of their datacentre equipment to achieve their green goals, Microsoft has continued on its path of trying to dream up new ways of minimising the environmental footprint of its datacentres.

Having previously trialed the use of underwater server farms, the company revealed details in late 2023 about the work it was doing to cut the amount of embodied carbon in the concrete and steel used to build its datacentres by experimenting with different building materials.

Specifically, the firm said it was trialing the use of microalgae-based limestone in the foundations for its server farms, along with other concrete mixes that feature materials such as ash and slag, alkaline soda ash and biogenic limestone too.

The government’s decision to dismiss an appeal against a plan to block the building of a hyperscale datacentre on a patch of Green Belt land in West London proved hugely divisive in November 2023.

Supporters of the project made much of the fact the piece of land the government was seeking to safeguard neighbours an industrial estate and the M25 motorway, but ministers held firm on the fact that the construction of a datacentre is not worth sacrificing Green Belt for.

After more than a year of uncertainty, Broadcom finally completed its $69bn acquisition of virtualisation giant VMware. The reason for the delayed deal closure was predominantly regulatory in nature, and anyone hoping the completion of the deal might steady the ship at VMware, the news was immediately followed with an announcement that its CEO – Raghu Raghuram – was leaving the business. Days later, job cuts at Broadcom were also announced.

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