Across much of the world, people have taken time off, bought each other gifts, and put up elaborate light displays - all to celebrate an annual tradition: DCD's list of the biggest and most important stories is ready for perusal.

This was a record year for us, with more than 3,750 news articles and nearly 100 features leading to over ten million pageviews. AI has yet to disrupt our jobs, but it has already begun to disrupt the data center sector.

The impact of AI was the great throughline for the year, but was not the only event of note. So, without further ado, here are the stories that defined 2023.

The most popular by traffic:

First, let's see what people read according to Google Analytics.

#1 - Twitter refused to pay AWS bill, so Amazon refused to pay for ads

Elon Musk had a problem. His $44 billion acquisition of Twitter* had loaded the business with unsustainable debt payments, while his erratic online behavior had driven away advertisers, leaving a hole that couldn't be filled by a small coterie of Blue Tick subscribers.

Fearing that his new acquisition was destined for bankruptcy and struggling to raise revenue, Musk turned to a different solution: Cut costs. The first approach was mass layoffs, but that was unable to stem the bleeding.

Then Musk came up with an innovative idea: Simply don't pay for the things you use. The world's richest man failed to pay landlords, cleaners, contractors, and - in this case - Amazon Web Services. However, while workers had little recourse than the slow wheels of justice, Amazon had an ace up its sleeve: Its e-commerce arm is a major Twitter advertiser, and the company stopped paying for ads until Twitter resumed cloud payments.

This year, we've written about various other Musk ventures - from Tesla's data center plans, to his GPU buying spree - but have been careful not to turn into a Musk-centric publication. Thankfully, we're not a business that relies on clicks, so we don't have to turn into MuskCenterDynamics, despite it being the easiest way to get traffic. See our views on how to cover him here.

*Now X, not to be confused with (now PayPal), xAI, X Musk, SpaceX, or the Tesla Model X. Not to mention X Development, formerly the Google X moonshot lab, creator of Glass and Loon. Ant there's also Marvel/Disney's mutant X-men.

#2 - Former mall site in Maryland earmarked for FBI HQ could be used for data centers

This is a surprising entrant in the top five. I guess people really want to know what the FBI are up to, or hope that a mall that was closed in 2002 will finally be used for something.

#3 - Water leak at Paris Global Switch data center causes fire, leads to outages at Google

Having your data center catch fire goes against best practices. It is also generally advisable to keep water away from batteries. But we live and learn. Global Switch has not yet explained how the event has happened - we are very eager to hear from the company.

#4 - Omniva: Stealth startup plans GPU data centers, hires former AWS, Microsoft, and Meta execs

A secretive company, grand plans, and blockbuster hires. What's not to love? Well...

Following this story, we spoke to current and former staffers at the Kuwaiti company and chronicled a company that has struggled with more money than sense, and which has long lacked a solid understanding of the data center industry.

With the new hyperscale hires, it is yet to be seen if it can turn itself around. But, earlier this month, a source at an Omniva supplier told me: "Yeah, it's different. They're a different company. We're doing what we can."

#5 - Microsoft Cloud hiring to implement global small modular reactor and microreactor strategy to power data centers

How do we deal with all the power-hungry AI data centers on the horizon? Nuke 'em! Back in October, DCD broke this story on Microsoft's plans to develop an SMR strategy to head off a power crunch. Since then, the company announced it has developed an LLM to speed up nuclear regulations approval processes.

The actual biggest stories:

Traffic is not a good indicator of what is actually a big story. The vicissitudes of the algorithm mean that the right combination of keywords will lead to clicks, while genuinely impactful stories will be buried amongst the detritus.

So what are the articles that perhaps should have been in the top five?

#1 - Blackstone, billions, and all that AI.

Okay, this is more than a single story, but the theme represents a single strong narrative thread: Blackstone & QTS are spending $8bn building new data centers in a “once in a generation” AI boom, TD Cowen has seen record data center leases, and DigitalBridge's CEO Marc Ganzi believes that generative AI is a 38GW data center opportunity.

#2 - Aligned pulls out of Quantum Loophole, Rowan Green Data steps in

The mega campus-of-campuses project from Quantum Loophole hit a snag earlier this year.Aligned pulled out when the state of Maryland limited the number of diesel generators that it would be allowed to deploy there.

Rowan Green has plans for another plot at the site, so we will see if they face the same issues - or if they have found a ... loophole.

#3 - Portuguese PM resigns amid corruption probe which sees police arrest Start data center executives
Did you have 'a data center project ends up overthrowing a Government' in your bingo card?

The Portuguese Public Prosecution Service is investigating alleged “misuse of funds, active and passive corruption by political figures, and influence peddling” involving lithium mining concessions, a hydrogen production project, and the Start data center campus in Sines.

Following the allegations, Prime Minister António Costa resigned - but has protested his innocence.

#4 - Prince William County officials vote in favor of PW Digital Gateway data center rezoning in Manassas, Virginia

The long-debated and controversial PW Digital Gateway project looks set to finally come into fruition after Prince William County officials vote in favor of it.

Across 2,133 acres, QTS aims to develop around 11.3 million gross square feet (1.05 million sqm) of data center space, while Compass aims to develop up to 11.55 million sq ft (1.07 million sqm) of data center space. Together, they represent the largest data center project.

#5 - AT&T and Verizon accused of ignoring toxic lead cabling

Major US telcos have been accused of leaving lead in their networks, polluting neighborhoods and poisoning locals. Lawsuits are ongoing, with both companies downplaying the issue.

The long reads:

You've caught up on the news, but you're not free to go just yet. May I interest you in a lovely feature in these troubling times?

Here are five to get you going:

#1 - The big generative AI explainer

Our biggest deep dive ever, looking at how generative AI impacts data centers, supercomputers, cloud, chips, networks, and more.

#2 - Racing at the Edge: How portable data centers are driving Formula 1

Why IT is essential to the need for speed and success in F1

#3 - The rise and rebirth of carrier hotels

What role do legacy interconnection hubs have a place in a cloud and Edge ecosystem?

#4 - Inventing the mobile phone

We speak to Marty Cooper about what it's like to invent a phone that you can bring with you

#5 - The unmaking of Enron Broadband

How about an antidote to all the AI hype? Read our retrospective of Enron Broadband Services, a feature four years in the making, that analyzes a time of over-egged expectations, zero revenues, and a whole lot of fraud. There are no parallels to today.

One final plug:

If all of the above still leaves you hankering for more, well then we've got some fabulous news for you. We've just delivered an all-new issue of our magazine, with more than 100 pages of data center-y goodness. Go here to learn more about what's in it, or scroll down to the bottom for a direct link to the mag.

Thank you

We couldn't pay our rent without your support, so thank you. We have been incredibly fortunate to have the audience that we have, and we don't take it for granted. Our philosophy has long been to build the best possible digital infrastructure publication on the planet, offering deeply researched and unbiased coverage of this critical sector.

We're not finished with that goal. I'm really excited to announce that we have several new hires starting next year, including a features editor, grid and sustainability editor, and a junior reporter. Oh, and we hired a compute, storage, and networking editor earlier this month.

If you liked what we wrote this year, you're going to love what we have planned.