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Tech News : Work Starts On £790m UK Google Data Centre

Work has started on Google’s first UK data centre which will cost $1 billion (£790m), will add to Google’s 27 data centres worldwide, and will support its move into AI.

Crucial Compute Capacity 

The data centre is being built on a 33-acre site at Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire. In addition to the construction and technical jobs that Google says the building work will bring to the local community, Google says its investment in the data centre will deliver “crucial compute capacity to businesses across the UK, supporting AI innovation and helping to ensure reliable digital services to Google Cloud customers and Google users in the UK and abroad.” 

Google says that its investment in the technical infrastructure needed to support innovation and tech-led growth in areas like AI-powered technologies is vital, hence the new data centre.

Off-Site Heat Recovery 

Google is also keen to highlight how the data centre’s carbon footprint will be minimised. For example, in addition to the company’s goal to run all its data centres and campuses completely on carbon-free energy (CFE) by 2030, it says the new data centre in Hertfordshire will “have provisions for off-site heat recovery”. 

Data centres produce large amounts of heat and so an off-site heat recovery system is a way for energy conservation that benefits the local community through capturing the heat generated by the data centre and using it in nearby homes and businesses. Google also says the data centre will have an air-based cooling system, presumably rather than a water-based one.

Part Of A Continued UK Investment 

Google has highlighted how the new data centre is part of its continued investment in and commitment to the UK which it says is “a key country for our business and a pioneering world leader in AI, technology and science.”

Other recent Google investments in the UK (in 2022) include:

– A $1bn purchase of our Central Saint Giles office in London’s West End.

– A 1 million sq. ft. Office and local innovation hub in King’s Cross.

– The launch of an Accessibility Discovery Centre in London, aimed at boosting accessible tech in the UK.

Google is also keen to highlight its free digital skills training, offered across the UK since 2015, and the expansion of its Digital Garage training programme in the UK (including a new AI-focussed curriculum).

UK Government Pleased 

Prime Minister Sunak, who’s been keen to woo big tech companies to the UK to support its ambitions to be a major global tech centre, has welcomed Google’s $1 billion data centre investment as an endorsement of this. He also highlighted how such “foreign investment creates jobs and grows all regions of our economy and investments like this will help to drive growth in the decade ahead.”  

Also, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, has expressed that he is “delighted to see this investment from Google” and that it ”reflects the success of the UK tech sector, which is now the third largest in the world after the US and China – worth over $1trillion and double the size of anywhere else in Europe.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The growth of cloud computing followed by the rapid growth of AI, which has a much bigger demand for computing power, plus the move by competitors into AI (Microsoft has announced an impending £2.5bn to expand data centres for AI across the UK) are key drivers for Google’s new UK data centre investment. The infrastructure is needed to support the AI which will in turn help boost productivity, creativity, and opportunities for UK businesses, and Google’s investment in the UK is good for job creation, boosting the economy, and bolstering the UK’s ambitions for being a tech centre.

However, Google is also reported to have been laying off many workers as it slims down to accommodate AI and, although the immediate community around Waltham Cross may benefit from some low-cost/free heat, there are other matters to bear in mind. For example, AI is an energy and thirsty technology and although there’s an ambition to run its data centres on carbon-free energy (CFE) by 2030, the Waltham Cross data centre should be finished and running by 2025. Like other data centres, it will still require huge amounts of energy (it shouldn’t need water too because it’s to be air-cooled), which is a matter that hasn’t been highlighted in the announcement about the investment so far. The impact on the local grid and environment, and the impact on the environment of the build itself may also be of concern.

That said, work is only just starting, more data centres are needed to fuel our AI-powered future, and there are no other good alternatives to this kind of expansion as yet so for UK businesses, the investment in the UK and its benefits are being welcomed.