IBM Plans Four New UK Data Centres To ‘Meet Cloud Demand’


IBM will treble its cloud capacity in the UK, targeting regulated industries and government, but European cloud head confirms plans underway before Brexit

IBM is opening four new data centres in the UK, claiming it needs to treble its cloud capacity in this country to meet growing demand for its portfolio of services – including cognitive computing through Watson. 

British customers will have access to Watson APIs, alongside IBM’s Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and analytics platforms and will be able to run all workloads from within the UK. 

The company was the first of the major public cloud providers to open a data centre in the UK back in 2011 and opened a second facility in 2014. It has since been copied by rivals Microsoft, AWS and Google and believes the new cloud regions will help it attract customers in regulated industries and in government. 

Brexit consideration 

IBM flash 2Sebastian Krause, general manager for IBM Cloud in Europe, told TechWeekEurope that it was attracted by the strength of the UK economy and because of the British government’s commitment to digital. 

Matthew Hancock, minister of state for digital and culture, attempted to use the development as evidence of “another vote of confidence which shows Britain is open for business” following the vote to leave the European Union (EU) in June, but Krause confirmed plans were well underway before Brexit

“We are constantly monitoring the marketplace,” he said. “I won’t even tell you when we started. We can see a [market] acceleration and we decided to expand the capacity. 

“It was evaluated before Brexit. The UK is very strong so [the decision to invest] was done independently. Not that we would have been re-evaluted.” 

The expansion sees IBM Cloud’s footprint expand to 16 European data centres. For many firms, being able to store their data within the EU is a significant factor when devising a cloud strategy as they can then benefit from EU data protection laws. 

Customer benefit

But if the UK embarks on a ‘hard Brexit’, with different regulations this advantage could be lost. Krause admitted this was a consideration but said that either way the investment was worthwhile and that IBM was ‘future proofed’ against Brexit because it would have UK infrastructure in place. 

“From the cloud perspective, there’s one aspect that needs to be considered: data privacy,” he declared. “The ‘black’ scenario is that the UK tries not to comply or find an agreement with GDPR or Privacy Shield. In that case we have six data centres in the UK. 

“The ‘white’ side would see everything say is: all the data security laws would be applicable today. Then this would just be another choice and flexibility. 

“We are covered on both sides.” 

IBM already works with Boots, Dixons Carphone, National Grid, Wimbledon and a number of other UK companies and has just partnered with Thomson, part of the TUI Group on a Watson-powered chatbot for holidaymakers. 

“We came up with a natural language solution with many of the cognitive solutions,” explained Krause. 

But IBM is targeting central and local government too. 

Government aims 

The first data centre will open in December, while the second will go live in mid-2017. The second is co-located within an Ark data centre in Farnborough and Krause believes this will give IBM an advantage when selling to government agencies  

government parliament big ben public sector bus clouds © CristinaMuraca Shutterstock government parliament big ben public sector bus clouds © CristinaMuraca ShutterstockArk is a joint venture partner with Whitehall for delivering public sector data centre services under the Crown Hosting Framework, meaning compliance can be assued. 

He said the government’s commitment to digitising public services, the formation of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and a ‘cloud first’ mandate was evidence of a sector ripe for transformation. 

“The government can now benefit from a hybrid cloud strategy and global reach [of IBM Cloud],” said Krause. “I believe we will see a lot of requests to leverage the new capabilities. We already work with numerous departments. 

“We have a good idea of what’s in the pipeline.” 

Rival AWS will open its UK region either later this year or next, while Google will open its doors in 2017. Microsoft’s Azure UK region went live in September. 

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