Why outer London data centres make sense

Written by Max Cooter, Freelance Journalist and former editor of Cloud Pro and Techworld Published 2015-03-11 15:21:27

The London suburbs have had a bad press. They're the netherland between the happening city and the peaceful countryside. In sitcom-land, they're the epitome of the dull and the mundane, where the most exciting Vevents are rose-growing competitions and bridge parties: they're certainly not synonymous with the cutting edge of technology. Yet, these very suburbs have plenty to offer in terms of technology.

Received wisdom has it that data centres need to be in a central London location. The arguments for this are well-rehearsed. You need to be close to the action; there's a latency issue – just close your eyes and imagine Scotty's voice "You cannae argue with the laws of physics, captain". Those City firms with their stringent demands need to be right on top of the data centres, for those micro-second lags could cause millions of pounds of losses. Right?

Anyone using a regional data centre instead of a central London one is going to be saving thousands of pounds every year.

It's not right though: that lowly outer ring offers a host of advantages. In particular, there are financial benefits. Just look at the way the capital's property prices stack up: the cost of real estate in outer London means that anyone using a regional data centre instead of a central London one is going to be saving thousands of pounds every year. If you're a business that's dealing with high-frequency trading, then the issue of latency is an important one and you're willing to pay the extra. But most companies aren't like that, they just want fast and reliable connectivity at a reasonable price.

Reliability of service is an important factor too: there have been well-reported concerns about central London power consumption. There have been plenty of scare stories about London power stations being close to capacity and liable to buckle under the strain of heavy demand. This is an ongoing problem that affects other walks of life, rather than data centre operators, but it's clearly going to be a problem for an industry that relies on consistent supplies of electricity.

On the connectivity front, gone are the days when only the centre of London provided the superfast fibre. Outer London now has just as much fibre as the centre; enough to meet most business demands with ease.

The belief that outer London is some sort of wasteland persists among many foreign visitors, whose vision is maybe clouded by those Hollywood films where Tower Bridge is almost next door to Nelson's Column and where one can fall out of a pub in the City and be just a few minutes' walk from your hotel in Piccadilly. Those in the know have a much more accurate picture and appreciate that the reality for central London is an acute shortage of land and little room for expansion. That's not all: it takes an age to get into the centre from outside; the outer edge of London has the best of links, with easy access to motorways and airports.

The desire to maintain data centres in central London, in many cases, is based on a range of non-technical reasons: we've always done it that way; you need to be in the centre in case things go wrong; it's where our competitors are. They're reasons that smack of inertia and muddled thinking, not reasons driven by economic imperative or a desire for technical excellence.

It may not be where the action is, but the outer reach of London offers a great option to any company looking for a cost-effective data centre and that's no joke.