Will The International Datacentre Sector Survive The 14 Day Quarantine?

Stephen Whatling, Chairman at BCS, considers the impact a 14 day quarantine period could have on the datacentre sector

The latest proposals by many countries, including the UK, to implement a 14-day quarantine period for people arriving from overseas has divided the UK between those that think it should have been sooner and others that see their hopes of a summer holiday disappear. There is however no doubt that it will have a major impact on the data centre sector which relies heavily on highly mobile staff with specialist expertise. And this is at a time when demand for capacity has never been higher and resilience is vital.

There is some good news as it seems that data centre operatives will be allowed to travel to and from the UK without having to quarantine on their return as the UK government advice gives exemption to ‘persons involved in essential maintenance and repair of data infrastructure required to reduce and resolve outages, or in the provision of goods and services to support these activities’. However different countries have different quarantine rules and there is no standardisation, even within Europe.

And this is only part of the issue. The availability of flights will probably remain an issue as airlines decide upon their economic models but are inevitably going to be more expensive as they won’t be at capacity. This may well prevent essential cross-border journeys that data centre specialists regularly make to provide much needed service and maintenance.
All of this is of course exacerbated by the well documented skills shortage which means that our sector often relies upon being able to move a small group of uniquely skilled experts between datacentres and construction sites in different countries. This skills shortage will get worse before it gets better. Many graduate vacancies and apprenticeship schemes, both vital in the ongoing provision of skilled data centre staff, have been put on hold until the future is clear. This delay in recruitment, training and provision of engineers will further slow the development of new capacity.

There are other practical considerations too. In the early days of the Pandemic we had people travelling to sites in Europe and even then, finding hotel accommodation was difficult despite the key worker status our team have purely because most hotels were closed. Those that were open didn’t have any restaurant facilities and even getting there was difficult as taxis were hard to find. These challenges are likely to continue certainly in some countries for many months.

There was a strong need for additional capacity even prior to the Coronavirus pandemic and key players, like Microsoft, were already looking to add capacity before the pandemic. During the lockdown many projects that are in design and preconstruction have continued and at BCS it has been business as usual for this part of our operation as well as our consultancy activity.

For example, we have just completed a fascinating piece of work for a company looking to invest in a significant facility in Asia. Obviously, we had to do the work remotely but were able to provide clear guidance and the project has been given the green light. However, any project management would always be done on site and the quarantine restrictions will likely affect the ability for contractors to complete these projects on time and within budget. This in turn could cause problems around contractual obligations (see factsheet from Conexus Law at www.conexuslaw.com).

In conclusion, in recent years the data centre industry has proven itself to be agile, forward thinking, adaptable and perhaps most of all resilient. So whilst the Covid -19 pandemic is by far the biggest challenge we have faced so far I am confident that we are up to the job.