The Data Center Frontier Show podcast tells the story of the data center industry and its future. Our podcast is hosted by Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Frontier, who is your guide to the ongoing digital transformation.
DCF Podcast Episode 8: Trends in Subsea Cables, And Why They Matter
Google’s Grace Hopper Cable connecting the U.S. and Europe is the latest in a series of new subsea cable projects. Data Center Frontier Show host Rich Miller looks at how cloud growth is reshaping how data travels around the globe.
For additional insights on undersea projects, check out our Subsea Cables Channel on the DCF web site, as well as these stories:
- Cloud Players are Redrawing the Subsea Map
- Cable to Cloud: New Data Flows Raise Hopes in Virginia Beach
- The Cloud Brings Colo to Cable Landings
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Hey everyone! it’s Rich Miller, and we’re talking data centers. Sometimes we see an announcement that tells a larger story about how digital infrastructure is changing, and how it’s changing the world.
That’s the case today with an announcement from Google that it is building a new transatlantic subsea cable, which is named for Grace Hopper, the coding pioneer and admiral in the US Navy. The new cable will connect the United States with points in the UK and Spain and will include new technologies that will allow Google to move higher capacities of data back and forth.
Google’s announcement of the Grace Hopper cable is part of a larger trend and a bigger story about subsea cables and how they are connecting the digital economy across the world and tying continents and data centers together. But to understand this trend it’s important to go back and take a look at subsea cables and how they are built and who builds them.
In the early days of the internet, most subsea cables were put together by large groups of telecom providers and investors. These consortiums came together because it was so expensive for one company to attempt to take on a project like this. So these companies shared the costs and shared the benefits of these cables.
Because of this, you generally saw the cables focused on the large business centers around the world. You would see cable landings that bring data to markets like New York and Los Angeles and Miami and Seattle.
Things began to change a little bit with the rise of cloud computing as companies like Google and Microsoft and Facebook began creating large data center campuses to support their global operations. These big cities where the cables are focused are expensive and not easy places to build huge data centers.
So as cloud campuses begin to emerge in more remote areas where there was cheap land and cheap power and the ability to build very large campuses, it began to change some of the economics of how our internet infrastructure is tied together. As companies like Google and Facebook became larger customers for the subsea cable projects, they began to think about whether there are better ways to do it. Google in particular decided ‘why not do it ourselves’. And so the Grace Hopper cable is the fourth cable that Google has built and funded.
We’ve seen the influence of these giant hyperscale cloud computing companies in the way that cables have been built in recent years. A good example is Virginia Beach, Virginia, which has emerged as a major cable landing station, with multiple cables coming in from the U.S. and Africa and South America.
Why Virginia Beach? One of the reasons is that if you go straight inland from Virginia Beach you’ll find one of the largest Microsoft data centers in the world. This allows Microsoft to bring oversea traffic directly to its data center infrastructure. Facebook, which is also a partner on one of the cable projects with Microsoft, uses that cable to move data up to Data Center Alley in Ashburn in Northern Virginia. But after a while they figured out that it might be just as well to have a data center campus that’s closer to the subsea cable landing.
So Facebook built a large data center campus near Richmond, Virginia in Henrico County, where they were offering some incentives to help sweeten the deal for the data centers. On the other side of the ocean the destinations have also changed.
This is driven in part by GDPR , the European Union’s privacy plan which calls for a lot of countries to try and keep data in country. What that has meant for data center providers and cloud computing companies is that that it’s requiring them to have physical data centers in a lot of these countries, rather than share the data and move it back and forth across borders.
For example, with the Grace Hopper cable, Google is looking to connect closely to a new data center region that it’s building to serve the Madrid area in Spain. When we see hyperscalers investing heavily in something, we usually see ecosystems and business opportunities arise around them. And that’s become true with the subsea cables as well, as we’ve seen new companies and groups move forward to build new subsea cables to try and support the hyperscalers in their growth globally and also to open up new regions to the benefits of internet connectivity.
The larger story is that these cables are tying together the globe and bringing internet services and connectivity to new places in new ways. The construction of new cables to serve different parts of the world is increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we’ve seen how online services become the table stakes, become a lifeline to tie together parts of the economy so that people can continue to partake in business and education and health care. Over time these subsea cables will bring new opportunities to new parts of the world.
One of the things I’ve learned in 20 years covering the data center industry is that announcements often have a larger context and tell a deeper and more important story about how the industry is changing and where it is headed from here.
At Data Center Frontier, we’re looking at these trends all the time and trying to explain them in a way that can help our readers understand where the world is headed. Join us in this journey and follow us at datacenterfrontier.com, and on our many social channels. We look forward to sharing the journey with you and we’ll see you again very soon!