26 Feb 2021

Industry Stewardship in a Time of Unprecedented Change

This week I have been delighted to join techUK’s Data Centre Council - an opportunity I willingly accepted and one that I am thoroughly excited about. With our industry going through a period of seismic change, industry stewardship and the sharing of best practice has never been more crucial, and I’m looking forward to rolling my sleeves-up and playing an active role.

During the last fourteen months we’ve heard the word ‘unprecedented’ a fair few times, and it has to be said that perfectly sums up the transformation that’s taken place across the data centre sector during this period. Personally, I have never known a period of time that has challenged us more and I’m proud at how my colleagues at Kao Data and across the wider industry have pulled together and responded.

We are continuing to face numerous challenges from adapting to the varying impacts and fallouts of the Coronavirus pandemic, to increased regulation, energy efficiency targets, championing sustainability, building more capacity, fostering technical innovation and all at the same time as ensuring we keep the lights on and our development curves ahead of the insatiable demand for data and processing.

Interestingly data centres remain both the hero and in some quarters, the villain. On the one hand data centres and the supercomputing technologies they house, have enabled landmark scientific breakthroughs like the rapid genomic sequencing of the Coronavirus – the vast majority of which has been undertaken in the UK. There’s also the unprecedented (there’s that word again…) development of numerous Covid-19 vaccines that give us all a chance for a brighter 2021 and beyond.

During a time of great human isolation, data centres have powered the applications that have kept us connected, informed, protected and entertained. They have provided the very digital foundations that have ensured the continuation of our economy, a remote working revolution and a new e-commerce boom.

On the other hand, the colossal growth of data and the industry that houses it is causing many of us to look at how data centres are impacting the environment. Global data centres’ projected energy use, operating efficiencies and carbon footprints are seen as three of the most prominent issues that must be addressed in order to help mitigate catastrophic climate change.

In the UK and Europe, this has become an especially hot topic, with the UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place later this year in Glasgow – a conference that promises a step-change in action on global warming.

Yet as many within our industry will appreciate, the sustainable path forward is never quite as simple as it seems and is, in many ways, reliant on government and other industries providing the necessary infrastructure and support to help us further our progression to Net Zero. This only goes to further highlight why good council, industry stewardship, open communication and the sharing of best practice remain fundamental for our future.

As greater emphasis is placed on the role of sustainability in digital transformation, it’s vital that the professionals who design, build and operate data centres remain front and centre in the debates on industry regulation. In fact, as we plan our return to the ‘new normal’ (or maybe it’s the old normal?) the importance of industry stewardship remains crucial following such turbulent and unpredictable times.

One thing is for sure - data centres are here to stay. They have become the modern-day reservoirs for the on-tap, on-demand, digital generation, and continue to enable the applications and innovations that disrupt and challenge the way in which we communicate, work and engage on a daily basis.

I, for one, am proud to be part of a sector that is on the bleeding edge of innovation, and I believe that within its relatively short history, the operators, engineers and end-users within our industry have had more positive impact on the evolution of society, science, healthcare and commerce than any other market you can name.

Now with increasing focus on our industries growth, its need for renewable power, land, and sustainable construction materials, I believe the government needs access to expert insight that can shape and formulate policy for the better. In the UK there is no better conduit between government and the technology industry than techUK - an organisation I’ve been proud to have worked with, and represented previously.

As a long-standing advocate of continuous improvement and advocacy, I have willingly contributed my experiences, both the good and the bad, to a number of our industry’s leading associations. And, through the continued commitments of industry organisations such as ASHRAE TC9.9, the Infrastructure Masons, The Open Compute Project and techUK amongst others, I believe we can lead from the front, acknowledging the necessity for positive change.

Becoming a member of the techUK Data Centre Council provides an opportunity to sit at the table with fellow experts and policy influencers - something that is a great personal privilege. It is one that offers the chance to contribute to the greater good of the industry, and play my part in a carbon neutral future.

Paul Finch

Paul Finch is COO at Kao Data and has had a 30-year career designing, building and operating some of the world’s finest data centres.


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