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Southland's data centre plans ramp up

Peter Griffin, Editor. 29 March 2022, 9:56 am

Its cool temperatures and access to abundant renewable energy make Southland an ideal site for power-hungry data centres.

Now plans to make the region a hub for storing data and running high-performance applications appear to be taking shape. T4 Group, a company formed last year out of the acquisition of Northland-based Advanced Data Centres, is developing a regional network of colocation data centres.  ADC has a data centre in Whangarei and rack space available in Auckland.

T4 Group said yesterday that its head office will be based in Southland, where it plans to build a tier 4 data centre to complement its existing tier 2 and tier 3 centres. A tier 4 data centre Is considered to be one that is "completely fault-tolerant… with redundancy for every component. This tier comes with an expected uptime of 99.995% per year".

Tier 2 and Tier 3 data centres in comparison offer lower levels of redundancy and uptime. That will make the planned Southland data centre attractive to those running mission-critical applications that aren't suitable for the major cloud platforms offered by Microsoft and AWS, which are both building hyperscale data centres in the Auckland region.

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T4 Group Directors Jason Porter and David Simpson discuss the Tier 4 data centre to be built in Southland

Meanwhile, Datagrid, which has plans to build a $1 billion data centre complex on a 43-hectare site at Makarewa, just north of Invercargill, will be seeking expressions of interest from construction partners in the coming days.

"The entire construction site will definitely require hundreds of workers, and we're in discussions with a number of construction companies able to allocate resources at that scale," Datagrid's chief executive Rémi Galasso told Stuff.

"The next step is to finalise our data centre design, and to then seek the appropriate consents. Our key objective is to start construction by early 2023," he added.

Data centre operators eyed up Southland as a prime location when it appeared that the Tiwai aluminium smelter was set to be decommissioned, which would have freed up considerable hydropower capacity. But the smelter's owners now want to remain in business as they command high prices for the top-quality aluminium the smelter produces.

Still, there should be enough capacity to meet the demands of the regions data centre ventures. Datagrid's resource consent allows for it to draw up to 150 megawatts of power, which, Stuff reports, "is more than a quarter of the power currently used by the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter".

T4's requirements are likely to be considerably less.

No greenwashing

The company also said it will be designing its Southland data centre from the ground up with sustainability in mind.

"T4 Group is not greenwashing its operation; currently, data centres in New Zealand rely heavily on coal as a secondary power source which companies offset by purchasing carbon credits,"  saysT4 Group Director David Simpson.

"We can harness the unique benefits from the regions, such as access to hydro energy, to develop a truly green and sustainable community asset."

Datagrid has also touted the natural cooling effect of the Southland climate which will mean less energy is required for airconditioning to keep processors and other equipment cool. T4 said its data centre would feature a modular design so that the site "can be responsive and future modules can be added as and when required by the industry, taking advantage of newer, more sustainable technology." 


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