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UK data centre operators ready to ‘camp out’ in event of London lockdown

Written by Fri 20 Mar 2020

techUK confident UK Government will permit free movement of data centre staff if Capital shuts down 

techUK Data Centres Council is working with DCMS to ensure UK data centre employees are included in a list of critical infrastructure workers that would be exempt from lockdown measures that limited free movement in London.

If data centre employees are not included in the final list of critical infrastructure workers — due for publication in a matter of days — or at least designated as key workers, data centres without remote operating capabilities could soon be forced to house and feed business-critical staff onsite.

Speaking to Techerati, Jack Bedell-Pearce, CEO of 4D Data Centres, an operator which sits on the council, said he was “optimistic” Downing Street would acknowledge the vital role London’s digital infrastructure is performing in supporting UK businesses throughout the pandemic. 89 of the UK’s 288 colocation data centres are located in London, according to Data Center Map

“We have been told that data centres will be included as key workers, or as part of a framework which will allow us to continue with the free movement of staff,” he said, adding that some operators have stocked up on supplies to ensure employees can “camp out” at facilities for an extended period if efforts to persuade the Government fail.

“Given that the Government is asking everybody to remotely work from home and given that we are primarily a service-based country, keeping services, the internet, the cloud and other enterprise servers online must be a critical priority for us and the Government,” he added.

New measures

The techUK Data Centres Council is made up of UK data centre operators, lawyers and land consultancy specialists that regularly discuss industry issues and serves as a central point of contact for the UK Government.

There are twenty individual members spanning wholesale and retail colocation providers, cloud and hosting operators and enterprise providers, including IBM, 4D Data Centres, Equinix and Digital Realty, Ark, Colt and Interxion.

The council has been meeting regularly since mid-February to discuss guidelines for ensuring employee and customer safety and operational continuity as the coronavirus outbreak escalates. 

While the group initially met weekly, they are now assessing the situation daily and have brought non-committee members “into the conservation”, Bedell-Pearce said. 

The CEO added he believed the data centre sector was “well ahead of others in terms of preparedness and scenario planning”, thanks in part to advice from committee companies with global operations.

“We’re actually very fortunate to have members on the council such as Equinix and IBM who already own and operate data centres in other parts of the world which are much further ahead in terms of this pandemic, who were able to provide us with real-world experience and suggestions,” he explained.

After a series of meetings, the group broadly agreed on a series of emergency measures this week, which Emma Fryer, associate director at techUK, outlined in a blog post Monday.

“As more and more people are required to work from home to limit the further spread of infection, the demand for digital communication services like teleconferencing, e-commerce and remote working is rising sharply,” Fryer wrote.

“So what are data centres operators doing to ensure that COVID-19 does not compromise their ability to operate reliably? Quite a lot, it appears.”

Around the same time the post was published, council members 4D, Equinix and Digital Realty released statements detailing new policies to help thwart the effects of the pandemic, all of which included reducing onsite personnel to only business-critical staff, strict sanitary measures, and employee monitoring and screening. 

Some data centres with larger data halls are also encouraging employees and customers to use predefined routes to enable targeted deep cleaning in the event of infection.

While Bedell-Pearce said 4D Data Centres and other operators are preparing to camp out at facilities, Digital Realty said its data centres were “equipped with the supplies to ensure they remain fully operational if remote operation becomes necessary.”

“Digital Realty does not anticipate this will occur as a long-term response and we will only close down the data centre if mandated by authorities. If this does occur, we have plans in place to ensure continuity of services,” the company added.

Written by Fri 20 Mar 2020

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Coronavirus UK
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