How Britain hamstrung its datacentre dream

Opinion

How Britain hamstrung its datacentre dream

Recently Intel outlined its vision for the datacentre of the future. For all the challenges ahead – mobile, cloud and the Internet of Things - there was a single panacea, a big data system.

In other words, it was chips with everything, which is unsurprising, given that Intel wants to sell more server engines and believes it has the right chips (x86) to manage and analyse this data.

A bigger surprise was that the chipmaker wants to get into software (ooh, get you – moving up the protocol stack!) and is fishing for Hadoop-related software opportunities.

It’s debatable whether that’s the right way to go anyway. Some would argue that the very foundations of software, such as the databases running in datacentres, need to be redesigned.

"We believe that the high-performance, distributed datacenter is the way of the future," say Michael Waclawiczek, operations VP at NuoDB, one of the breakaway vendors of alternative SQL based systems. You need to be flexible and keep your options open, he argues. NuoDB's NewSQL distributed database is better positioned to support any new modern scale-out, single or multi-datacenter environment, he says, because it can adapt.

“We look forward to collaborating with OVH on joint customer engagements," said Waclawiczek.

Well good luck to him. Intel and NuoDB happen to live in a country where there seems to be no institutional prejudice against businesses from the public sector. Sadly, Britain is the polar opposite.

A good example of this is a recent EC Directive on backup generators in datacentres. It passed under the radar as it sounds dull, but it could be deadly. Under Phase (III) of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, there was a directive that companies could document all activity on a backup generator. A directive, mind, not an imperative. EC directives are guidelines, open to interpretation.

No public officials across Europe decided to enforce this. Officials in France, Germany, Italy and everywhere else just ignored it. They sensibly decided that businesses are already paying tax on their carbon emissions and all this extra admin was both pointless and expensive. You would produce a massive book that nobody would read, at enormous expense.

I say no public officials were small minded and stupid enough to impose these guidelines as laws, but there was one country where the public sector hates the private sector and punishes them as frequently as possible. Have you guessed where it is yet?

That’s right, Britain. So, if anyone runs a datacentre in Britain, they will now have to spend half a man year administrating this expensive scheme, according to Emma Fryer, head of climate change programmes at services company Intellect.

“Carbon reduction can be burdensome and absurdly complex,” says Fryer. It claims to encourage energy efficiency while it is actually only designed to drive carbon reduction, which in turn encourages the wrong behaviour and creates perverse incentives, she argues.

But it’s only Britain’s officials who seem to interpret every directive with the most tragic and pointless consequences. “Do we have the EU to thank for this? No, we did this all by ourselves,” says Fryer.

The only person laughing was Jonathan Evans, who thinks this might send more datacentre customers off to his Green Mountain site in Norway.

Why does this happen in the UK, while civil servants in other countries are much more understanding? What’s the answer to public sector prejudice against businesses? Perhaps a series of diversity courses, in which you explain the culture of the business community, might defuse the tension and help people realise that datacentres aren’t the new dark satanic mills.

It’s all very well talking about the cyber future. But we’ll never get there when our minds are still stuck in the class war of the industrial revolution.

This was first published in September 2013

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