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Why is this town Europe’s largest data centre hub?

Slough, a town in Berkshire just outside London, has long been plagued by negative perceptions, from John Betjeman’s poetic critique to its portrayal in the British sitcom “The Office.” However, recent developments suggest a shift in its reputation. With its strategic location, including direct transport links to London and proximity to Heathrow Airport, coupled with fast fiber optic connections, Slough is increasingly being seen as primed for a high-tech revolution.

According to the Slough and South Bucks Observer, the town boasts “Europe‚Äôs largest collection of data centers,” currently hosting 34 with more in the pipeline. The demand for data centers has surged since the internet’s inception, with Slough welcoming its first data center in 2005. Today, Slough Trading Estate stands as Europe’s largest data center hub, serving as the backbone for storing a myriad of digital content, from the cloud to social media platforms.

Despite the town’s pivotal role in digital infrastructure, the world of data centers remains largely clandestine and security-oriented, with many facilities shying away from media attention. Pinpointing the exact number of data centers in Slough proves challenging, with estimates ranging from 30 to 35, as acknowledged by Slough Borough Council.

However, a recent invitation from Virgin Media O2 provided a rare glimpse inside one such data center. Tom Finch, a technical site engineer, highlighted the center’s significance, describing it as O2’s largest mobile data hub in the UK, handling the traffic for 3G, 4G, and 5G customers. Dan Goodenough, the technical site operations manager, emphasized the surge in data demand witnessed during the pandemic, driven by factors such as remote working and online gaming.

So why Slough? According to datacenters.com, Slough’s appeal lies in its strategic location, robust infrastructure, and excellent transport links. Its proximity to Heathrow Airport further enhances its attractiveness, facilitating easy access for international operations. Additionally, the town’s history as a banking center laid the groundwork for its emergence as a data center hub, with financial institutions seeking secure locations outside London for their data infrastructure.

However, the proliferation of data centers also brings environmental challenges, with significant energy and water consumption. Efforts toward sustainability are underway, with operators investing in renewable energy sources and energy-efficient technologies to mitigate their carbon footprint.

In the eyes of Emma Fish, regional operations manager at Virgin O2, Slough’s significance as a data center hub cannot be overstated. As society increasingly relies on broadband connectivity, Slough’s strategic location and robust infrastructure position it as an ideal base for data center operations, underscoring its newfound importance in the digital age.

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