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CTO Interview: Echelon’s Simon McCormick on the company’s sustainability drive

Thu 30 Jan 2020 | Simon McCormick

Echelon CTO says the company’s number one priority is sustainability

In September last year, data centre developer and owner Echelon Data Centres, a subsidiary of real-estate veteran Aldgate Developments, appointed Simon McCormick as CTO. McCormick, previously in the data centre leadership team at AECOM, joined the company in a period of rapid expansion.

The Irish-owned outfit currently has five locations in various stages of development, including three €500m facilities in Ireland and a £150m London Docklands facility, the company’s first outside of Ireland and the first to grace the data-centre heavy Docklands since the 1990s.

For McCormick, who has worked on projects in the European, Middle East and African data centre markets, the role was a perfect opportunity to work with “an established real estate developer” and direct his knowledge and experience to address the “capacity and sustainability issues” facing the data centre industry today.

Four months in, McCormick says he is enjoying the challenge of supplementing his technical grounding with the role’s client-side perspective: “The first few months have been challenging but enjoyable. Some changes are clear – corporate management has been replaced by shareholders, people and firms once considered competitors are now part of the supply chain – but it’s also required re-focussing, to the strategic side of the industry.”

“In my previous role as a consultant, the job was to deliver to the client’s brief, on time and on budget. Now, as a client, I’m required to identify the shifts and trends in the market, to develop solutions for the short, medium and long-term, including finding the teams who can deliver those solutions.”

Join Simon at Data Centre World, 11-12 March 2020, ExCeL London

Sustainable Data Centre Development
11 March 2020, 10:45 – 11:10
Keynote

Sustainability

With the number of hyperscale facilities forecasted to rise to 628 by 2021, the need to develop data centres in a more sustainable way is one of the most pressing challenges facing the industry.

The industry’s carbon footprint has been long-scrutinised by environmental groups, fuelled in large part to Greenpeace’s influential Dirty Data and Click Clean reports. This year, the organisation is expected to publish a fresh interrogation of the industry. With the climate debate the loudest it’s ever been, the data centre industry is readying itself for firmer public scrutiny.

Echelon has a number of focuses as it enters a pivotal decade. But McCormick says the company’s number one priority is sustainability, primarily with respect to energy. At Data Centre World London in March, the CTO will share how Echelon is taking practical steps to address these issues.

McCormick says it’s important Echelon “balances the competing needs for growth in data centre infrastructure and identifying, building and operating long-term power solutions.” To help the company achieve this, it is in advanced discussions with several renewable energy providers and Eirgrid, the Transmission System Operator in Ireland.

Design and Build

Improving the sustainability of the design and build process is a key component of this strategic goal. McCormick says Echelon plans to work with customers and the wider supply chain to “re-examine resilience in today’s world of cloud computing” in order to create solutions that eradicate inefficiencies — an effort the CTO recognises as an investment rather than an expense:

“This will result in a lower cost base, not just financially, but also environmentally through a reduction in waste and a decrease in transport-related impacts such as emissions.”

In July last year, the booming data centre industry had its first serious encounter with ecopolitical resistance when Amsterdam announced a shock ban on the construction of new-build facilities. In addition to concerns about the burdens being placed on local electricity grids, the Dutch municipalities of Amsterdam and Haarlemmermeer expressed alarm about the steady encroachment of data centres in the region.

Echelon’s home market of Dublin, like Amsterdam, is home to a prominent and rising number of hyperscale facilities and its real estate and energy planning processes have been similarly scrutinised. In March 2019, a complaint was filed against Echelon’s planned 100MW campus in Country Wicklow over concerns the facility would pile too much pressure on Ireland’s national grid. McCormick says the “issues in Amsterdam are something that we’re looking at closely.”

“Fortunately, the Government in Ireland, in a statement in 2018, outlined its support for data centres and the role they play in Ireland’s economy. That said, Echelon – as a data centre infrastructure provider – is aware of its obligations to the wider community and that’s why sustainability is one of our key focus areas.”

Ireland’s lower and more consistent ambient temperatures and reliable power network make it an attractive location for data centre owners and developers. The country’s location also affords low-latency between the major data centre markets and the US. Importantly, McCormick says, Ireland is well-suited to harness the growing demand for sustainable facilities.

“There are significant opportunities, as Ireland moves towards a majority renewable energy market, for development outside of the Dublin region and all of the associated benefits – such as job creation outside of the capital – that come with that.”

Experts featured:

Simon McCormick

Chief Technical Officer
Echelon Data Centres

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dcw echelon Ireland London
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