WCM Consulting from Ontario, hired recently by the Yukon government, has confirmed that the Yukon is cold and has, in their words, “a plentiful supply of cold air and cold water.”
This is part of WCM’s study on the feasibility of having data centres in the Yukon to boost our economy.
The idea is that data centres can be cheaper to run in the North, since you can use the cold climate to cool those big banks of computers instead of expensive air conditioning.
Yukon data centres would create jobs for snow-loving tech nerds plus lots of juicy spin-offs.
It all sounds great. It is also yesterday’s news.
Just to let you know how old this idea is, Facebook opened a data centre in Northern Sweden in 2011.
That’s three years ago, which is an eternity in Internet time. The idea is so obvious and so well known that if you look in the pile of old newspapers by the woodstove, you may find a Yukonomist column on the idea from three years ago.
WCM went on to say that the absence of a back-up fibre optic cable to the Yukon was a “red flag.”
Exactly. Who would put all their computer systems at the end of a spur line of fibre that could be cut at any moment by a backhoe operator in Fort Nelson?
All the Internet stories about Facebook’s Swedish data centre noted that it is at the intersection of two fibre optic cables.
The WCM report says that cold weather means that the Yukon could be an “advantaged site” for data centres, as long as the “red flags” can be “mitigated.”
Basically the entire $20,000 report can be summed up by saying that the Yukon economy could be boosted by data centres, but that won’t happen until someone puts in a back-up fibre optic line. The other 58 pages of the report are just expensive filler.
This is the kind of report that gives consultants a bad name. The recommendations even mention hiring a follow-up team that could be composed “entirely of private sector consultants.” It’s not good when your consultants recommend more spending on consultants.
The whole thing is a reminder of how clocks tick more slowly in government buildings. I don’t know how long it took WCM to prepare the report, but it’s dated July 11 and wasn’t released to the public until October.
Meanwhile, the private sector speeds along. In the three years since Facebook opened its Swedish data centre, huge amounts of new data centre capacity have been built in North America. None of it has been built in the Yukon because of that missing back-up fibre line.
Until someone builds a back-up fibre line, every data centre constructed in the future will be located somewhere other than the Yukon.
And data centres are not the only economic activity that would be boosted by reliable Internet service. There is a cloud of IT-related businesses and jobs that would be entirely possible to do in the Yukon if it had reliable Internet connections.
With that being the case, I would suggest that the Yukon government get cracking on that back-up fibre line. They’ve been talking about building it for years, hiring consultants, studying the problem and telling us they’re working on it. How many more years will pass as studies on other parts of the knowledge economy accumulate beside the WCM report on government hard drives?
Every time my Internet goes out, like it did last week, I’m reminded that “working on it” is not the same as “mission accomplished.” In the three years since Facebook opened its Swedish outfit, the Yukon could easily have built a back-up fibre line several times over.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. You can follow him on Channel 9’s Yukonomist show or Twitter @hallidaykeith