According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created globally every day – enough to fill 10 million Blu-ray discs by some calculations – with volumes only set to continue to grow as more of the world goes online.
While it’s tempting to think of all this data as intangible computer code making its way across the ether, it’s very much grounded in reality: all digital data has to be processed and distributed via computer servers housed internally in a ‘server room’ or – increasingly frequently – in an external data centre. The International Data Corporation puts the current amount of space occupied worldwide by data centres at approximately 1.58 billion sq ft, but predicts this will rise to 1.94 billion sq ft by 2018.
Given the numbers involved, investors have become increasingly aware of the opportunities available in the sector. With the unstoppable rise of online services and cloud-based computing, data centres are considered to be sound alternative assets, offering secure income streams that can help diversify a portfolio.
In Savills annual Global Real Estate Tips, our international research teams in China, Japan, the Nordics and the UK identified specific data centre opportunities in their markets. Investors are paying close attention to take-up in the Nordics, in particular. More and more companies are following the lead of Apple (Denmark) and Google (Finland) to capitalise on the advantages that basing their servers in the region offers, including natural cooling efficiencies, high connectivity, lower power costs, advanced green energy (data centres use huge amounts of power keeping servers cool) and tax incentives.
But while there may be more data centre assets on the ground, there may well be more investors competing for them given the market is well established.
In Asian jurisdictions the data centre market is less mature and therefore potentially offers less competition, but in turn holds specific challenges. In China, for instance, data centres have great appeal given the exponential growth of Chinese online services and cloud-based computing, but the market is tightly controlled and international participants are required to partner with local enterprises.
In Japan, meanwhile, data centres are a relatively new asset class and, along with other new alternative investments, such as student housing and healthcare, have some issues, including scalability and lack of underlying infrastructure.
One thing, however, is certain: despite some specific challenges, as we increasingly live more and more of our lives online, the future looks bright for data centres.
Read more: Savills Global Real Estate Tips