Thames Valley Data Centres Escape Floods – For Now

Peter Judge

Slough’s data centres have kept out of the floods. Peter Judge suggests they think about contributing to flood defences to keep it that way

This month’s floods in Britain have put climate change firmly on the agenda, and will certainly have had data centre owners checking their disaster plans.

The floods have hit the Thames Valley, home of many high tech businesses, including Vodafone in Newbury, and a bunch of big data centre players in Slough. Would we see repeats of the scenes when floods hit New York in 2012?

Back then, some data centres failed, while others struggled through, like Lower Manhattan’s Peer 1, with volunteers carrying diesel fuel up stairs in buckets after floods shorted out a basement fuel pump?

Thames valley flood February 2014 disaster © Steve Mann Shutterstock

Slough keeps dry?

Slough is a byword for tedium. It’s where bedtime drink Horlicks is made. And the Slough Trading Estate is where Ricky Gervais filmed that excruciating study of ennui, The Office.

That Slough estate is also the site of a huge number of servers.

Savvis (or CenturyLink as it’s now known) has two data centres totalling about 9 MW in the area, while Equinix just opened its third data centre in Slough, adding 86,000 square feet to the space it already had there and Infinity has another 2MW there.

The good news is that none of these data centres seem to be under any serious risk this time around. “The flooding risk is to the south of the A4 and M4 (the main roads past Slough),” explains Tim Anker, of data centre comparison site Colo-X. The motorway is built on the North side of the River Thames and forms a barrier between any floods and the data centres – as well as Slough town centre.

Even if floods reached the higher ground of the business parks, anything built in the last ten years will have been constructed to survive. It may have equipment in the basement, but will have redundancy built in.

So the data centres are all right, but the surrounding areas clearly aren’t, Even though the flood danger has been increasing, the government has cut the amount of money spent on flood defences. It spends less now than it did in 2010, and about £120 million a year more is needed, some experts say. That’s a consequence of Conservative politics: the idea is that government does less, and private enterprise does more.

But – as far as I can see – there’s no mechanism to make that happen. The data centre business could be profitable and contribute to the regeneration of Britain’s economy, and there’s plenty of them along the Thames Valley.

But what kind of political persuasion would it take to persuade data centre owners, along with Vodafone and other Thames Valley businesses, to stump up the money to protect the land where their staff and customers live and work?

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A version of this article appeared on Green Data Center News