The centre of the world

Roisin Kiberd writes on the increasing role Ireland plays in the data centre sector.

29th September, 2017
“We have a fantastic pedigree in hyperscale data centres,” said Barry Rhodes, chief executive of INEX, Ireland’s internet neutral exchange.

For a small island, Ireland is home to some very big and powerful data centres. So big, in fact, and so powerful that ‘large-scale’ isn’t really enough to describe them. These are the ‘hyperscale’ data centres of Ireland, and their number is ever increasing.

“We have a fantastic pedigree in hyperscale data centres,” said Barry Rhodes, chief executive of INEX, Ireland’s internet neutral exchange. “The likes of Google and Amazon have set up here, initially with only one or two data centres, before expanding to multiple centres apiece. Now multinationals have up to ten centres operating in Ireland. Their experience here has been so good that they have continually expanded.”

Ireland’s proven track record as a location for hosting has served to attract further big names. Attracted by Ireland as a base for their European operations, multinationals view our country as a gateway to Europe, and where they go SMEs follow.

There’s also our track record. “There’s a lot of ability here,” said Rhodes. “So many companies have been involved with our existing data centres, there’s already a very good infrastructure for building data centres.”

But one thing that’s central to our appeal as a host country is hidden underground, buried below sea level. At present, transatlantic undersea cables deliver a direct line of connectivity between Dublin and America, with further cables reaching Cork and Belmullet, connecting with London, Frankfurt and New York. “We have the sub-sea carriers, running through Ireland and on to Europe,” Rhodes said.

“Most of the cables at the moment go from Dublin to somewhere in the UK, and then on to mainland Europe from there. Cork, too, is going to be extremely important. American internet traffic will be able to move via Cork, avoiding Dublin and London, and will be able to reach Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam, the other main centres.”

With an excess of web traffic directed through London, multinationals are looking for alternatives. “A large percentage of the data centres in London are in the Thames Valley near the Docklands, below sea level,” Rhodes said. “It’s subject to flooding, and there’s already so much there. Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others want their traffic to follow a diverse route instead.”

Rhodes predicts a boom in interest around Cork, especially due to the Tier 1 Express fibre cable added by Hibernia Networks, acquired by GT earlier this year for $590 million. Add to this a near-universal drive for data, and Irish data centres stand to thrive in years to come.

“Global data is expected to double every two years for the next decade,” agreed Rhodes. “There will be more and more requirement for cloud services, and cloud services need storage in data centres.”

The future looks very bright, all GDPR-induced panic aside. Rhodes said: “In the data centre industry, people talk a lot about ‘FLAP cities’, standing for Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris, the four main data centre cities in Europe. But now, not just in Ireland, but internationally, the acronym has become ‘FLAPD’, with a ‘D’ for Dublin.”

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