With massive growth predicted (and being witnessed) in the data center industry, the supply chain is feeling the strain to keep providing more and more facilities. But, as with any massive development, there will always be some who will find it harder to keep up.

At our DCD>Connect event in London, we sat down with prominent members of the industry to discuss this very topic – whether the supply chain will be able to maintain demand.

Andrew Jay, Head of EMEA data center solutions at CBRE demonstrated this growth.

“Numbers-wise, we've got about three and a half thousand megawatts of colo space in Europe, and in four years’ time, that's going to be 7,000. So it's going to double.

“If you look at hyperscale self-builds, that stands at about 1,500 megawatts today, and that's projected to double to 3,000 in four years. So we've got a total of 5,000 megawatts, colo plus self build, to do. Maximum, this will go up to 10,000 in four years’ time. It is 20 percent year-on-year growth across the board. If that's not scary, I don't know what is.”

But with the development of new facilities, there is a desperate need for manpower to keep them running. Manpower that may be out of reach.

“A new data center is going to need four people, three shifts. That’s 12 people before you even open the doors. If you're opening four or five facilities in an area because these guys will only travel 45 minutes, you're up to 50 or 60 people, and there just isn't 50 or 60 people.

“So whilst we're seeing this 20 percent changer on the total stock data centers, that's also the same with the staff. So getting skilled staff in is really tough. We are even at the stage of having a program to train pilots to become engineers, and we're now doing the same thing trying to get pilots to become data center ops guys.”

As with any industry, as demand increases and supplies become scarce, value booms. Mark Flanagan, Group Managing Director at Kirby Group Engineering, spoke to this increasing cost.

“Copper has increased 20 percent in the last two weeks, so there are fluctuations that we're dealing with.

“If we look at transport, the transport of a 40-foot container from China to Europe cost around two and a half, three thousand euros 18 months ago. It's now costing somewhere between 14 and 18 thousand euros to get a 40-foot container.”

This is up to a 600 percent increase, numbers which for many could be unobtainable.

Matt Pullen, the Managing Director of Europe for CyrusOne, while not necessarily concerned on a personal level, is aware of the potential implications.

“I could moan about being public, and that we can only spend a certain amount of money to maintain our leverage ratios, etc. But hell, that probably means we can spend a billion a year. So I'm not bothered. It's the smaller facilities that struggle.

“Panic buying or strategic buying has been going on and it's great if you're Microsoft, but what if you're just getting off the ground with a couple of small data centers? You just can't get the inventory.”

This exponential growth could risk a few big companies monopolizing the industry. This is by no means a new development, however. Money buying opportunities is a tale as old as time.

Dr. Tomas Rahkonen, research director for the Uptime Institute is already seeing inequality in the process of data center design.

“Another thing for the smaller companies is standardization. I did prefab for 10 years or so, but if you do prefab and the design is different every time, there isn’t much benefit. But if it's actually standardized then you can get away from having educated people with drawings. It's almost the same thing in a factory as on-site. If it's standardized, then it's basically an assembly process, and there are fewer requirements for education.

“But then again, the small guys can't request their own design. While the big guys will get away with it anyway because they will bring so much power in large volumes.”

This industry dynamic is inevitable with the amount of demand being put on businesses to build facilities as quickly as possible. Quite simply, the highest bidder will win. We can only hope that a more financially sustainable industry lies in the future.

Watch the full discussion below.