Birmingham claims it is “digital city” but still lacks one the key elements to make this a reality, the head of a leading city design firm has claimed.
Jake Grimley, director of Jewellery Quarter-based Made Media, said the city's poor data centre provision meant companies were forced to host servers in Manchester and London.
This means that when Birmingham hosts the Digital Film Festival this autumn, very few of the websites involved will be hosted in the West Midlands. Birmingham companies that rely on having access to their servers on a regular basis face at least two hours travel each way to do so, Mr Grimley said.
Made Media, which runs high-traffic websites for media companies and advertising agencies, hosts its servers in Manchester.
Mr Grimley said: “Servers are not particularly glamorous things but they are vital for digital media companies.
“Yet Birmingham, which has pretensions to be the UK’s second city, doesn’t have its own decent data centre.
“London has one in the Docklands dedicated to racks of servers and Manchester has a couple of good ones. If Birmingham wants to be a digital creative city it has to realise it is lagging behind in its basic infrastructure.
He added: “In these days of interconnectedness people assume that you can host your servers anywhere but, if you have heavy-duty traffic to your site, easy access to your servers becomes much more important. One of the secrets of Google’s success is that it has instant access to its servers.”
Mr Grimley suggested that a data centre developed by the city’s universities could help Birmingham compete on the digital stage.
He said: “I believe the data centre we use in Manchester came about through a spin-off. I think there is a role for universities to play. It’s an important infrastructure issue that affects the whole of the West Midlands and all it would take is for one of the universities to stick their neck out or form a partnership.”
With local companies paying significant money to data centres outside the city, the regional economy was also missing out, Mr Grimley added.
But Dr Russell Beale, from the advanced interaction group school of computer science at the University of Birmingham, said he failed to see the importance of where a website was hosted.
He said: “It makes no sense for a university to create a data centre. Providing and hosting data is a business process and does not need the innovation that a university provides.
“Saying Birmingham can not be a digital city because it does not host its own websites, is like saying it can not excel in book publishing because it does not make its own paper.
Nowadays the majority of servers are not located in the same city as the companies that use them. There is no problem that shouldn’t be manageable remotely or by staff at the data centre – that is what they are paid to do.”