Amid intensifying competition to attract and build new data centres, Hong Kong has a clear head start thanks to a couple of key advantages. The city suffers no risk of earthquakes and enjoys one of the world's most reliable supplies of electrical power, making it a prime location to house the 'mission critical' computer systems and off-site back-up on which so much of international business now depends. 'These are massive plus points,' says Stephen Hilton, regional head of engineering and critical facilities for EC Harris. 'Of the places rated least risky to build a data centre, Hong Kong ranks first in Asia and seventh in the world. Contributing to that, it has the landing points for submarine cables, and the government does not try to gain access to information which is protected by law.' The firm itself specialises in two main areas. It oversees the concept, planning and construction of purpose-designed buildings. It also provides the professionals and expertise needed to keep everything running like clockwork once a data centre is fully commissioned. Understandably, whatever relates to the actual software - the sensitivities of programming, debugging, firewalls and other related areas - remain very much the responsibility of the individual client. Predicting a bright future for the sector, with the real possibility of Hong Kong becoming a regional hub, Hilton nevertheless highlights a few concerns. One, perhaps inevitably, is the scarcity of available - and suitable - greenfield sites. Several large companies have already built data centres in Tseung Kwan O, but finding land for construction is likely to remain a headache, despite concerted action by the authorities to make the process less onerous. Another is the lack of older industrial buildings. Ideally, these can be converted for use as lower-tier data centres, where system security requirements do not need to be quite as stringent. Encouragingly, developers can now obtain certain waivers if properties are deemed suitable. A third concern is the anticipated difficulty in finding sufficient qualified and experienced staff to meet the upswing in hiring demand. Applicants may have project management, engineering or operations backgrounds, but there are still comparatively few with hands-on experience in a sector where knowledge of related disciplines really counts. To offer practical support, though, Hong Kong now has a data-centre facilitation unit. It is ready to offer companies advice, assistance and co-ordination services to clear away obstacles. 'The government absolutely understands now that data centres, supporting corporate headquarters and hi-tech services, are a requirement for keeping Hong Kong economically successful,' Hilton says. 'If operators take the chance, it is quite possible to make this a regional hub.' Ramapriyan Singlachar, Verizon's regional product manager, Asia-Pacific, for data-centre services, has a similarly optimistic view. He has seen a rapid spike in demand, with the amount of information stored in the 'digital universe' expanding by a growth factor of nine in the five years to 2011. That took the total to an estimated 1.8 trillion gigabytes, or 1.8 zettabytes. 'Prospects for the sector in the next five years look positive,' Singlachar says. 'We are looking for candidates with experience in IT security, cloud computing, cybercrime, solutions engineering, and investigative response.' 5,000 The current number of data-centre jobs in HK. This is tipped to surge, with seven major projects going online between late 2012 and 2014.