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Gathering clouds

Growing data-centre demand points to jobs downpour

Hong Kong’s efforts to become the Asia-Pacific hub for data centres have been music to the ears not only for techies, but also for property developers and construction industry workers. With support from the government, the number of data centres has surged while future demand is almost fully guaranteed.

As companies expand and embrace cloud services, the compound annual growth rate of the market for data hosting services in Asia-Pacific is expected to grow by 10 to 15 per cent over the next three to five years, according to technology research firm Gartner.

Information and communications technology (ICT) is not only a key emerging pillar of the Hong Kong economy – it is also increasingly becoming an important economic sector in its own right. According to government figures, while the nearly 80,000-strong ICT workforce only constitutes roughly 2 per cent of the city’s total labour force, it contributes around 6 per cent of GDP.

Given organisations’ ever-increasing need for secure, reliable and abundant access to cloud facilities, Hong Kong is in a “perfect storm” situation, says Lee Field, head of IT consulting for Asia-Pacific at Verizon, which recently opened a Hong Kong data centre in Tsuen Wan.

“The government’s push to create demand and interest for the supply and build-out of data centres, combined with organisations increasing their use of cloud computing, is driving demand,” Field says.

He attributes this growing demand to companies moving into Hong Kong and the region, while other organisations are consolidating their data-storage needs. Companies are also finding it more cost-effective to use the services of a third-party provider, given the rising cost of maintaining and housing their own data systems.

Field says these trends point to various jobs. “At the primary phase, there is design and construction work, which requires professional skills. These skills include mechanical and electrical, fitting out, cooling-equipment installation and power distribution,” he says.

Once a data centre is completed and operations begin, onsite network and service engineers are needed to maintain systems. With the need to secure stored data, multi-level security is required. Third-party building-maintenance engineers are also needed to look after the facility.

Field says the skilled labour pool needed to build and operate data centres is expanding, along with the growing footprint of such facilities in Hong Kong.

Pointing out that cloud and network services do not sell themselves, he says there is growing demand for industry-savvy professionals, such as engineering and solutions architecture specialists. “This is an area of well-paid employment,” he says.

There is also the related demand for back-office professionals, including services and project management professionals, as well as delivery and consultant engineers. Meanwhile, human resource experts are required to source talent, while lawyers are needed for professional legal services.

“It is quite clear that, as providers of data services and telecoms grow their businesses in Hong Kong, demand for skilled people will keep growing,” Field says. “We see this through the expansion of our own headcount, but it is obvious that this is happening across the entire industry.”

However, as in other sectors, the bugbear is a shortage of skilled talent. To address this, Verizon has launched a graduate training programme to complement an internal talent-sourcing scheme. “Both of our talent-sourcing and pipeline-building initiatives have proved to be very successful,” Field says.

The IT industry may not be as glamorous as the legal or financial professions, but it offers a wealth of opportunities, Field adds. “There is a vast evolution taking place in the technology environment. It’s no longer about banging out code. There are fantastic opportunities for technology people who can align their skills with commercial and business understanding,” he says.

A recent study involving Asia-Pacific enterprises found that almost 95 per cent of respondents in Hong Kong plan to expand their data centre footprint in the next 12 months. About 90 per cent plan to lease space in purpose-built data centres or use third parties to design and build their own data centres.

Kris Kumar, senior vice-president and regional head for Asia-Pacific at Digital Realty, which commissioned the study, says that while many agree on the importance of cloud computing, expertise is rather limited. “That’s one of the things that makes a third-party vendor a more attractive choice than building a data centre from scratch,” he says.

Kumar adds that Digital Realty’s new HK$1.5 billion data centre in Tseung Kwan O is the only one of its kind in Hong Kong to have earned the prestigious Tier III certification for its design from industry body Uptime Institute. This means customers will be able to move in and expect a usage uptime of 99.999 per cent.

Kumar sees more hiring as the facility gears up.