Data centres and infrastructure

 

Sir, – Karlin Lillington has critically analysed the impact of “monstrous” data centres in terms of employment potential and the negative impact on Ireland’s power grid (“Data centre growth comes at price for Irish infrastructure”, Business Opinion, August 18th).

While data centres are significant consumers of energy, they are not “air-conditioning warehouses” as they utilise additional cooling circuits that often use outdoor “free” air to supplement the more energy-intensive components of the cooling system. In terms of the cited electricity bill of data centres (€160 million), it is more accurate to cite €1 million per megawatt per annum, and this investment in Ireland’s grid helps to support our climate objectives and the deployment of sustainable energy technology through the public service obligation.

Ireland has significant advantages resulting from its reliable power and water, its data protection laws and its political stability, and is competing with countries, including Canada, Finland and Sweden, in terms of its big data enterprise strategy.

According to a CSO 2015 report, data-related industries have a larger multiplier effect (1.29) than traditional foreign direct investment companies, and provide a larger economic return that industries such as pharma, chemicals, computer products, medical instruments and media.

In a 2015 report, the OECD argues that data and data analytics have become an essential driver of innovation akin to research and development, resulting in greater productivity across the Irish economy. Ireland should not fall behind. Canada foresees investments worth $15 million to support commercialisation of quantum technologies; France is investing €150 million to support research and development in areas such as cloud computing and big data analytics; while Germany’s approach is to invest in big data competence centres.

Public policy needs to strike a balance between the benefits of enhanced sharing of data and analytics and the required infrastructure to enable this delivery. Focusing on the data without the required infrastructure presents a risk of potentially undermining a country’s capacity to innovate. Analysis (from Facebook in North Carolina) shows that an investment of $1 million of direct capital expenditures, results in $700,000 in output generated elsewhere, whereby eight additional jobs are created for 10 jobs created from direct capital expenditures.

A greater access to data has beneficial spill-overs as it helps to address global challenges, including climate change, health and ageing populations, water, food and energy security. – Yours, etc,

Dr MATTHEW KENNEDY,

International Energy

Research Centre,

Tyndall National Institute,

Cork.