Bored with Blighty? Relocation lessons for the data centre jetset

Green expertise, language barriers and constant cooling issues

Prevented by language

My firm at the time decided to hire a raft of Portuguese staff in Europe to ease the transition, with the quite understandable assumption being that because Portuguese is also spoken in Brazil, it would make it a much smoother experience.

What ultimately transpired, however, was that the colloquial differences between the language spoken by the Brazilian Portuguese speakers and the European Portuguese speakers were so unexpectedly vast that they barely understood each other better than I did. In the end, we all ended up communicating in English anyway, which is rapidly becoming a bread-and-butter skill for most foreign engineers.

I wish I could say this was a one-off incident, but I’ve seen similar occurrences elsewhere. Not just with European languages and their Latin-American equivalents, but with Western translators who speak other languages perfectly well – in theory. Often they have never experienced full immersion in the foreign location itself, and are ultimately found lacking when interacting with staff in countries such as China, Korea, India or Pakistan.

It isn't easy being green

One factor in your choice of location might be power – its provenance, efficiency and cost. One of the most widespread users of renewable energy in data centres (and their energy market as a whole) is Germany, while the world’s most efficient data centres tend be found in Scandinavia, making prodigious use of especially chilly free air cooling and arctic sea temperatures to drastically slash cooling bills.

It’s no accident that Google and Facebook have already set up shop in Finland and Sweden respectively, and Microsoft are set to follow suit. However, while the green credentials are obvious and you’ll find no shortage of flawless English-speaking locals, such locations tend to be pricey.

When it comes to the Middle East, you’d think that heat would be your primary enemy. But in this oil-rich land, where natural resources are even cheaper than in the US, they simply throw the most massive cooling systems you’ve ever seen at the problem and it goes away.

Dust and particulates, on the other hand, are a much bigger concern. Filtration systems and ingress protection have to be first rate and operating at their absolute peak to protect precious server hardware. The maintenance schedules are therefore onerous, particularly following sandstorms. Spare a thought for the military and peace-keeping operations who often run their servers from shipping crates, and usually have to shut each system down for dust evacuation (and cooling) at least once a day.

If Britain isn’t to your taste, the world is packed with data centres and co-location facilities. Few are hitch free, though, and it pays to look beyond just raw technology. ®

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