A decade-long campaign to bring the booming "big data" processing industry to Scotland looks set to bear fruit early in 2013 when a Scottish start-up unveils a "radically new" data centre model near Ecclefechan in Dumfries and Galloway.
The Sunday Herald understands that Scotia Global has signed a memorandum of understanding with one of the world's biggest electrical and electronics firms to build what is claimed to be the world's first "industrial estate" for data on 40 hectares of Dumfriesshire farmland. Details will be announced in January, with construction slated to start in May.
The development is being touted as the "world's first truly expandable, build-as-you-grow" data centre model, saving at least one-third on both capital expenditure and operating costs.
It has received conditional backing from South Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine. She said: "A data centre operating to world-leading technical and [energy conservation] standards, fed by green energy would attract business from around the world."
The promoters, who plan to market the new "flexible modular" model with their partners beyond the UK, claim that the Ecclefechan development will at last put Scotland on the global radar of a $106 billion (£65bn) global industry.
Finance Secretary John Swinney has described the project as potentially helpful to the Scottish Government's drive to attract the international data industry to Scotland to exploit its cool temperatures, renewable power sources and relatively cheap rural land.
Scotia Global, headed by Andrew Snowsill, former chief of global datacentre technology for Morgan Stanley, is also in "advanced discussions" with one of the UK's largest suppliers of green energy about the power supply to the facility, to be built adjacent to Britain's main north-south fibre-optic and National Grid lines.
With owner-occupied data centres now rare following the drying up of bank lending, today's large-scale data centre market is dominated by specialist "co-location" companies which rent out space in shared "data halls" to store data vital to the daily functioning of all but a few modern businesses.
Businesses outsource their data-processing functions due to uncertainty about their future requirements and the need for expert management of rapid technological changes.
However, co-location carries risks for data owners, mainly in lack of control and choice leading to excessive costs, the vulnerability of sensitive information to malicious "data harvesting", and the compromising of security breaches due to regulatory requirements imposed on host companies.
Snowsill said: "Our model gives the customer peace of mind by combining security of tenure and future expansion capacity in up to 25-year leases with choice over hardware, power, fibre suppliers, and even their service management provider.
"Critically, it ensures that the customer retains full control over their own data. It's really a collection of small customer-specific data centres built in 200 square metre modules, not one giant shared facility.
"Customers only pay for what they actually use, with no additional up-front premium to cover the space that they might or might not need in future."
McAlpine said: "Big data is a global growth industry that the south of Scotland is well placed to take advantage of.
"Ecclefechan is close to the digital and physical artery of the M74 and the Scotland/England interconnector at Gretna. It is close to abundant supplies of green energy and so attractive to global brands anxious about their carbon footprint.
"John Swinney has indicated that Government officials have spoken to Scotia Global about their ideas, which include having the public sector as an anchor tenant.
"This would, of course need, to go through the proper procurement process, but if successful, it might offer a way for Scotland to then attract international business.
Although attracting large-scale data centres has been a stated goal of Scottish officials for almost a decade, unlike Ireland, Iceland and Scandinavia, Scotland has so far failed to attract any investors of scale.
In an effort to give renewed impetus to the drive, Scottish Enterprise last month commissioned building services engineer Hurley Palmer Flatt to survey and "pre-qualify" sites as suitable for data centre operators, in an £11,000 contract.
The development agency has also refreshed the membership of its public-private sector technology advisory group (TAG), appointing Neil Logan, chief technology officer of the Amor Group, to chair a working group "looking at the opportunity big data offers for Scotland".