UK Data Center Event Addresses Industry’s Biggest Challenges

Key discussions at this year’s Data Centre World in London focused on scaling challenges, sustainable growth, talent retention, and – unsurprisingly – AI.

James Walker

March 6, 2024

5 Min Read
Data Centre World UK
Data Centre World UK runs from March 6-7, 2024Alamy

Data Centre World UK opened its doors in London today, welcoming delegates from Europe and beyond to discuss an array of today's hot topics.

Despite staggering growth forecasts – and Europe experiencing a surge in new data center projects amid escalating global demand for digital infrastructure services – industry challenges are coming from all angles: demand is outstripping supply, power access and supply chain issues persist, and legislation and sustainability issues loom large, to name just a few.

“In 50 years of data center design, it is clear there have never been more challenges at any one time than today,” said James Rix, Head of Data Centers and Industrial for JLL Project and Development Services, before his opening address at the Data Center Design & Build sessions at Data Centre World UK.

“We’re facing a poly-crisis situation within data center design whereby as an industry we cannot just concentrate on one specific area but need a collective focus on all of the most pressing items to be tackled together.”

A fitting time, then, for the thousands of data center industry representatives who once again took to the Excel Centre in the UK capital, poised to tackle these challenges head-on.

European Data Center Market: State of Play

Related:Data Center Efficiency Will Overcome AI-Fueled Build-Out Challenges

CBRE, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate service companies, recently reported that demand for colocation data center space in Europe outstripped supply in 2023, despite facilities of “unprecedented size” being delivered across Europe.

This year has already witnessed a raft of announcements, with Google, Microsoft, NTT Global Data Centers, Virtus Data Centres, Global Switch, Maincubes, and Starwood Capital Group all unveiling plans to develop new data center facilities in Europe.

According to analysts, this growth is set to continue through 2024 and beyond.

Kevin Restivo, Head of Data Centre Research, Europe, at CBRE, told Data Center Knowledge: “CBRE expects colocation data center take-up levels in London for 2024 to challenge the all-time high of 139 MW set in 2022, given demand from enterprises and cloud service providers with AI needs.

“This prediction is also down to a scarcity of available space, which, in turn, is expected to drive considerable rental rate growth in 2024. We also expect to see significant growth of secondary European markets, such as Milan and Madrid, alongside the established hubs of Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Dublin.”

Alan Howard, Principal Analyst, Cloud & Data Center Research Practice at Omdia, added: “The European market, specifically Western Europe, has a robust pipeline of data center projects underway – with many hyperscale campus projects that are expected to continue building for a number of years to come.

Related:Data Centers Push into New Territories in Pursuit of Energy, Space

“Overall, we have our eyes on 120 plus data center building projects, with 45 estimated to open in 2024 or 2025. That number will grow as previously unannounced projects are identified.”


AI Focus

Also at today’s Data Centre World UK event, Steven Carlini, Vice President of Innovation and Data Center at Schneider Electric, pulled focus on one of the industry’s biggest growth drivers: AI.

While Carlini noted that AI was driving “unprecedented change” in the world, he highlighted the lack of understanding when it comes to the added strain LLMs are placing on data centers and power grids.

“When people talk about [AI], they tend to just [look at] the end results and talk about how it is going to transform everything – but it's not magic,” he said. “It’s actually dependent on data centers and network capacity.”

He added: “The data centers that we're building now are not large enough. They don't have the processing power, and there's not enough of them.”

As power constraints continue to impact markets around the world, Carlini said technology systems, including ‘peaker plants,’ grid storage, and SMRs may become increasingly important.

The sustainability panel at Data Centre World UK 2024

Scaling Sustainably

As it becomes increasingly clear that the global data center industry must expand rapidly to service the growing demand, sustainable routes to scalability were a core focus of Data Centre World UK.

The event brought together a panel comprising Rabih Bashroush, Professor of Digital Infrastructure at the University of East London, Jason Liggins of Crown Hosting Data Centres, the European Space Agency’s Nigel Houghton; and Claudia Jaksch, CEO of Policy Connect, to dissect the challenges and opportunities in developing sustainable data center services.

When asked how easy it is for procurers to judge whether the data center services they are buying are sustainable, Houghton said: “It's extremely hard. When you've got a wealth of information in front of you, it can be very difficult sometimes to understand the validity… even the usefulness of some of the information.

“There are all sorts of standards and awards and organizations that come up from data centers… It's like a big game of data center whack-a-mole. Just when you understand what one certification means, another one comes up.”

Retaining Talent

In addition to the key challenges relating to infrastructure, sustainability, and scalability that were highlighted at Data Centre World UK, the very real challenges of finding – and retaining – staff was also a hot topic.

Stephen Bowes-Phipps of State Street, and Adelle Desouza, founder of HireHigher

In a packed theater this afternoon, Adelle Desouza, founder of HireHigher – which specializes in helping make the digital infrastructure a career destination of choice for young talent – explored the root causes behind the talent gap and its impact on data center operations.

“The topic of talent has dominated keynotes, podcasts, LinkedIn posts, and tweets for some time now, but we're struggling to see seismic change in this space,” Desouza said.

Ultimately, while the industry faces many challenges, JLL’s James Rix said: “There has never been a more exhilarating time to engage with data centers.” And with escalating demands for power and space, compounded by legislative complexities and pressing sustainability concerns, it will be the next generation of talent that rises to surmount these obstacles.

Data Centre World UK runs from March 6-7.

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About the Author(s)

James Walker

James Walker is the Senior Editor of Data Center Knowledge. He has more than 16 years of experience writing for business and technology publications, with a focus on translating technical issues to make them more accessible and engaging.

Before joining DCK, James was editor of The Daily Swig, an award-winning cybersecurity news website, and his work has been featured in The Times and BBC Online, among other publications. His first full-length book, HIT: Once Upon a Field, was published in 2023.

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