Finding empty spaces next to busy hubs where you can build large data centers is the unspoken-of gold rush of the 21st century – and despite political turmoil, London still ranks as a premium location for the biggest players in the industry.
NTT is currently completing the construction of its "UK London 1 Data Center" campus in Dagenham, on the eastern side of the city, less than 15 km away from London Docklands.
"It will be London's largest single campus in terms of availability," said John Eland, chief strategy officer for telecommunications company NTT's global data centers division.
A large-scale project, therefore – so large that NTT claims London 1 represents the biggest single UK infrastructure investment by an international company since the Brexit referendum.
London 1 will have two data centers supporting a combined 60MW of IT load over 24,000 sqm of IT space; Eland said that the company forecasts strong demand for scale-up in the future, and that the site has space for physical expansion.
"To find a premium site with lots of spatial capacity is tough, because those sites tend to be located in densely populated areas," said Eland. "In our sector, everyone is looking for such locations. And there are very few of them."
"So, when we found the Dagenham location, which has lots of physical space, power capabilities, fibre connectivity, and is near a hub like London – we were pretty happy."
Although NTT doesn't disclose the exact amount of money invested, Eland pointed to the numbers put forward by the Dagenham council as a reference point, which indicated a total investment of £1.5 billion.
By comparison, one of NTT's major competitors Equinix has poured just under £1 billion to expand its presence in the London area. Equinix's eighth data center, LD7, opened last April in Slough, about 30 km away from the capital, and was estimated to have cost £90 million.
Eland explained that the UK is still a key market for NTT, which moved its headquarters from Tokyo to London this summer after merging 28 of its companies into an £8.7 billion business.
"The data centre market globally is experiencing fantastic growth, and there has been demand for large-scale space in London," said Eland. "We invested and built speculatively, but on the basis of knowing that we have strong client demand for infrastructure here."
The UK tech scene has been booming, with a 14% growth in the number of new technology startups last year. And with high growth comes more demand for digital infrastructure – even in the context of political uncertainty caused by Brexit.
A recent survey by law firm DLA Piper showed that the UK is still expected to receive a lot of attention from equity investors, even though over half of the respondents thought that Brexit uncertainty has significantly impacted the data centre infrastructure market.
In fact, the UK was the second country after Germany that respondents chose as the European country that will see the biggest growth in data centre project investment over the next 24 months.
Eland, for his part, said that political considerations did not influence NTT's decision to build a site in the UK capital.
"The UK's digital economy is booming, and whatever happens politically won't change that," he argued. "The data center and more generally the digital market will be largely unaffected by politics."
For him, data centers should rather be seen as a global community that are not tied to one particular country's borders.
He explained that London 1 will be joining a network of 150 facilities across the world: a "cross-border platform", he said, that all companies using NTT infrastructure can access.
For example, the company has been experimenting with a programme called the Technology Experience Lab, which is a "try before you buy" test facility within the data center for potential clients to trial new ideas in a live data center environment before they commit to a contract.
The company is planning on connecting all of the labs in the future to create an innovation hub across its facilities.
"It will be a digital techie's playground; a virtual arena for developers to come into and try new solutions," said Eland. "Once we connect them all up, they can exchange ideas to grow R&D."
In the UK, NTT has long-standing commitments; London 1 is the third facility the company manages in the country. "And we're not going to go anytime soon," said Eland.