Posted by: drmiw | June 8, 2010

The future of cloud computing in Scotland

My impending move north of the border has motivated me to begin researching the cloud computing industry in Scotland, and I’ll present some of my initial findings in this post. I’ve talked to people in the know and I’ve googled a bit, too, but I’m still learning so this post may attract a few critical comments.

Last week, after numerous recommendations from my Scottish contacts and an initial telephone chat, I finally met with Polly Purvis, Executive Director for ScotlandIS, the ICT industry trade body, at their Livingston offices. ScotlandIS are promoting the benefits of Scotland as a Naturally Cool location for data centres and cloud computing, and the established service providers who ScotlandIS count as members are expanding rapidly. One notable example is Alchemy Plus who recently announced plans to build a green data centre in Shetland that will, it is proposed, use excess heat to warm local homes. Another example is a new green data centre that is currently being built in Aberdeen.

According to David Gilpin of Sungard Availability Services, using water cooling, Scottish data centres can potentially achieve a PuE (power usage effectiveness) ratio of 1.4 – where one watt of power delivered to IT equipment carries an overhead of 40% – whereas the best ratio that can currently be achieved with energy efficient, air cooled data centres in the UK is between 1.6 and 1.7.

Aside from the naturally cool environment, Scotland has vast renewable energy resources that are mostly untapped at this time. It is inevitable that this renewable energy will become more and more important to the UK and Europe as international oil reserves become further depleted and increasingly expensive, and carbon emission targets are enforced, so the country will become an even more attractive location to data centre operators and cloud computing service providers. But that is a long term forecast, and the future availability of green energy resources is of little use to providers in the present.

In the short term there is a key obstacle to cloud computing industry growth in Scotland: the country depends entirely on London for its physical connection to the global internet. According to Polly Purvis, a back-up connection to Amsterdam has been proposed but there is currently no political will to invest in the necessary infrastructure; and, apparently, a key reason why Microsoft chose to build its European data centre in Ireland rather than Scotland is due to the latter’s lack of redundant connectivity.

Another obstacle is the Carbon Reduction Commitment Act, recent UK legislation that is allegedly deterring potential data centre builders as it promises to penalize high-volume power users even if they use renewable energy. It has been reported that at least one data centre will not be built in Scotland due to fears regarding the CRC.

Despite these obstacles, which are of little concern to business customers anyway, the Scottish IT community is still a force to be reckoned with in cloud computing, and I expect that the emergence of green data centres using locally-sourced renewable energy will lead to Scotland becoming more and more prominent in the industry. But there is more to cloud computing than data centre technology, of course, innovative IT services are what customers want, and the senior IT people in Scotland I have spoken to thus far represent companies that have some great plans and some great products.

I’m looking forward to getting involved in the Scottish IT industry and, hopefully, I’ll have a role to play in bringing about a brighter, greener future for cloud computing services in the country.

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Responses

  1. It surprises me to learn that the only global gateway to the internet is through London. I would have thouht that there was a strong case for a back up system at a different location. Is Edinburgh the main internet hub for Scotland?

  2. Could there be a case for EC funding? It would certainly relieve the pressure on the London sites and could act as a backup should the London sites fail.

    I was impressed with the idea of selling heat to offset running costs.

    • With the imminent bailout of the Irish economy and the potential failure of other European economies, I don’t think there’ll be much new EU money going into Scoland in the near future, but if a good business case can be made based on green data centres and renewable energy then you never know.


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