Ireland’s pitch to become Europe’s data centre
There are now close to 50 data centres in Ireland, with the largest cluster south-west of Dublin, where Amazon and Microsoft among others have set up their facilities. But, Jason Walsh asks, where are they going next?
Huddled on the north-western fringes of Europe, right on the brink of the Atlantic, Ireland could scarcely be described as being at the heart of Europe. And yet it is one of Europe’s most established data centre markets, positioning itself as offering businesses and the data centre industry itself, certainty in terms of future planning. Contributing to this is the country’s settled politics, a long-standing desire to act as a bridge between the EU and US, and, housing crisis notwithstanding, a strong tech sector composed of a mixture of native and multinational outfits.
Tanya Duncan, managing director of Interxion Ireland, said that while some may feel the country’s location would work against it, in fact it is ideally placed as a data centre hub for Europe.
And political developments elsewhere should serve to illustrate this point, she said.
“Despite being an island location, it goes without saying that we are best placed as the gateway to Europe, and, particularly with Brexit in the near future, Ireland will be well placed to host data.”
Willingness to do business and a clear desire to remain part of the EU are only parts of the picture, though. After all, the one thing the data centre industry needs above all else is physical infrastructure — and Ireland has it, according to Duncan.
“Ireland’s connectivity options are some of Europe’s strongest,” she said. “We have 11 sub-sea cables connecting Ireland to the UK. Interxion alone is home to Ireland’s Internet Neutral Exchange (INEX) and to over 45 leading national and international carriers, internet service providers (ISPs) and content distribution networks (CDNs), including direct access to the Microsoft Azure Cloud and AWS Cloud from the data centres.”
Brexit has also, if inadvertently, raised the thorny issue of compliance: any organisation seeking to do business in the EU, and that will surely include many British businesses after Brexit occurs in March 2019, is subject to the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR), and GDPR compliance is easier to achieve if data is hosted within the bloc.
Geopolitics aside, though, the drive to the data centre is also a result of massive expansion in the cloud computing sector.
Carmel Owens, general manager of Sungard Availability Services, said that the move to the cloud was directly driving data centre business.
“The growth in data centres has been primarily, certainly in Ireland, due to cloud,” she said.
In fact, Sungard AS’s ‘digital compass’ research indicates that IT decision-makers are more interested in data centres than they are in headline-grabbing technologies such as AL and ML.
“Artificial intelligence, it didn’t make the cut. Around 64 per cent of decision-makers said they were looking at private cloud and 39 per cent said they were looking at public. They’re saying that these are the top technologies that they’re looking to invest in,” she said. “Our customers have varied requirements; not everything is cloud ready [or] cloud native, so what we’re seeing is a hybrid solution.”
The connectivity question
Owens said that data centres were a lot more than server warehouses, and a key part of that is their function as an interconnectivity point between cloud and non-cloud IT.
“Connectivity from the cloud to the data centre is of interest to them. Equally, some are looking for private cloud for things that simply will never go to public cloud.”
Part of the issue is legacy systems, but another aspect is that some data and applications have a natural home in the cloud while others are better suited to other locations.
“There’s definitely legacy. If you look around at the banks, there’s still a lot of mainframes around. They’re still the backbone of a lot of financial services systems, and if you look at healthcare a lot of the systems in use are just not suitable for cloud. Equally, data protection and security can also be an issue,” she said.
Kevin O’Connor, channel manager at Equinix, also said that a major aspect of connectivity was direct links into the major cloud services that avoided the public internet altogether.
“We don’t tend to reference the words ‘data centre’ or ‘co-location’ in our literature,” he said.
“We’re positioning ourselves as the ‘digital edge’. We see the data centre as a pivot between the physical, on-premise world and the cloud world.”
The objective, he said, was to offer not only fast output, but maximum flexibility.
“We have a product and service we call Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric,” he said.
“An organisation could come, using two or three different cloud providers, and this will give physical links into all of them through a single point. You’re removing the cost and uncontrolled latency of a public internet connection. We have access to upward of 55 cloud service providers, ranging from the large hyperscalers such as AWS, Google, Azure, as well as specialist software-as-a-service providers such as Salesforce.”
Which way is forward?
The question of which data should go where remains: public cloud, private cloud or co-location? And is it the end of the road for on-premise?
Declan Hogan, head of industry segment sales at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Ireland, said that no one needed to make a simple choice between cloud, data centre and on-premise.
“What we are seeing is a requirement for a mix of private cloud and a public cloud services with orchestration between the two.”
Unsurprisingly, the data centre is being promoted as the means to merge the cloud with in-house IT systems.
In fact, HPE has made hybrid IT a central focus of its business since 2017, hoping to build business on bringing the flexibility of public cloud to the private data centre: effectively the Microsoft Azure stack running on HPE Proliant servers, intended to be the best of both worlds.
“So, in reality, the requirements we are seeing are for a hybrid IT environment where the mix is driven by the applications being deployed,” said Hogan.
“Some customer applications will stay locked in a data centre untouched by anyone but their own employees. Some applications will be in a private cloud on-premise that give the economics of public cloud with the control, customisation and security that customers want.
“Some applications will be in a managed cloud environment like Workday or Salesforce. Some applications will live in a public cloud, such as Azure, Google, AWS, or from service providers, which provides scale and cost benefits.”
Duncan of Interxion said that each company should evaluate its data storage needs based on the business and its requirements from a variety of different points of view, including legal requirements both for the business and its clients, latency requirements and downtime concerns. This process should reveal the best path forward, she said.
“Most organisations still choose co-location or public cloud options as it allows the business to focus on its core services and doesn’t divert resources into other areas where the business might not have the skills.
“Private cloud works for large businesses which have their resources to invest in a private cloud. Private cloud installations are a large investment and require considerable time input from employees and long-term planning. The organisations looking at private cloud installations are generally looking to offset some cost and manage it internally in the long term,” she said.
Nonetheless, said Camel Owens of Sungard AS, future trends were already visible.
“I think it’s fair to say that we’re seeing a definite trend. The days of a server room in your office will decline. Certainly people still have them today, but there’s a move away from them. It’s as much around environment and energy issues [as anything else], as well as things like access to networks and diverse links.”
O’Connor at Equinix said that expansion was visible — particularly in terms of private connections that avoided the public internet altogether.
“We’ve [at Equinix] had 62 quarters of consecutive growth [and] we’re now embarking into the enterprise space, as they want to being the benefits of digital to market. Private internet growth is now outpacing public internet growth,” he said.
The universe of data
Without a doubt, one of the driving forces in data centre expansion is so-called ‘big data’. More precisely, business is changing as a result of the massive amount of data available and the increase in computational power that allows it to be processed.
This has resulted in a step change in not only how data is processed, but in the ownership model for the hardware doing the processing. The data that hasn’t moved to the cloud hasn’t been left out, though.
“Gartner has stated that organisations will increasingly live in a hybrid world, with some applications in the public cloud and others in data centres,” said HPE’s Declan Hogan.
“At HPE we are providing ‘cloud-like’ economics for on-premise workloads through our HPE GreenLake Consumption models so customers can move their on-premise environments to a consumption basis in line with a public cloud model.”
Tanya Duncan, managing director of Interxion, said that some industries had already raced ahead.
“We are really noticing that the sectors of finance, digital media and analytics and legal are the sectors that are increasing their presence in data centres.”
Duncan also said that even greater change was under way, giving the internet of things (IoT) as an example of a business model that didn’t exist before big data.
“IoT and the arrival of what is being called the fourth industrial revolution is one of the biggest drivers for choosing a data centre partner,” she said. “IoT brings significant opportunities not just to businesses and the growth opportunities it can bring, but also in terms of how an organisation’s data can be used to provide insights, efficiencies and opportunities for a business.”