In this edition of Voices of the Industry, Garry Connolly, founder of Host in Ireland, explains how and why digital infrastructure coming from Ireland plays a unique role around the world.
We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Data is the engine of this revolution, much like steam was to the first Industrial Revolution nearly 300 years ago. Data and digital tools are enabling new types of innovation, communication and creativity. In fact, every person in the world generated 1.7 megabytes of data per second in 2020.
Much still seems to be misunderstood, however, about the “centres” where that “data” is housed. To the general public, data centres are sometimes thought of as secretive and austere grey “boxes” that are disconnected from their local communities. There is a misperception they add little value to the communities they reside in despite the economic benefits they provide. The reality is data centres do not run in isolation from society, they are there because of it.
From Floppy to Fibre
Ireland has had a six decade relationship with “data” and a decade plus relationship with the “centres.” From mainframes in the 1960s to leading the world in software exports via floppy disk in the 1990s to data exports via data centres and fibre today. Irish companies have a long history supporting and partnering with global multinational organisations. Through this experience, the knowledge acquired by Irish companies has helped Ireland evolve as a leading data hosting nation, as well as a supplier of skills and services needed for data’s global expansion.
IBEC’s Cloud Infrastructure Ireland group also estimates the technology sector, which is underpinned by the data centre industry, contributes €52 billion ($52 million) to the economy and employs approximately 150,000 people. That translates to a real economic benefit for the Irish economy. According to Enterprise Ireland, €2 billion ($2 billion) of global Irish sales exports can be attributed to data centres.
What has made Ireland an intrinsic home to digital infrastructure and Irish companies so successful? There are common threads that run throughout companies who work from and within Ireland no matter how big or small they are – Ingenuity, Relentlessness, Integrity, Strength and History – I.R.I.S.H. But being I.R.I.S.H. is not about nationalities, but rather how and why digital infrastructure coming from Ireland – with global and Irish companies – plays a unique role around the world.
An ecosystem at its most basic biological definition consists of organisms and the physical environment with which they interact. A business ecosystem is typically defined as a network of organisations involved in the creation and delivery of products and services. For an ecosystem to flourish, cooperation and competition – or “co-opetition” – needs to exist. A diverse group of partners all interact and collaborate to bring the most innovative ideas and products to the forefront and raise the playing field for the industry as a whole.
Although many of our Host in Ireland partners are competitors, they have historically come together as a collective to promote the capabilities of Ireland as a centre of data excellence. Today, many of our partners are location agnostic and building robust businesses from Ireland across Europe, the Middle East, and making inroads to Africa and the rest of the world. Given the fact the data centre market opportunity in Europe is expected to grow to $66B by 2030, and the domestic Irish market represents 10% of that opportunity, the focus is now just as heavily focused on promoting Irish companies in the global data centre market.
What Comes Next
The chief economists in the United Nations jointly identified climate change and technological revolution as two of the five “megatrends” that will shape our world over the course of this century. The socioeconomic challenges of the last few years have become a springboard for digitalisation and changed our expectations of how we interact with technology. Running in parallel, the decarbonisation of our societies, including the electrical grid, is an increasingly urgent issue. The place where digitalisation and decarbonisation intersect is none other than the data centre.
There’s no doubt as the datasphere continues to grow, Tier 1 hosting locations, including Ireland, are facing tough challenges ahead. Power availability and sustainability are at the heart of every discussion. Yet, as Albert Einstein once said, ““In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Despite short term discomfort, in the long run there is a tremendous opportunity to innovate and change the way we do things. Scrutiny on sustainability will drive a meticulous approach to creating sustainable solutions on everything from equipment manufacturing to construction to operations. The positive economic impact to global and individual economies can not be underestimated as it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Digitalisation is here to stay and decarbonisation is a must for the future of our planet. It’s time once again for the data centre industry to be brave, creative and relentless to meet the challenges and seize opportunities ahead of it.
Garry Connolly is founder of Host in Ireland, a global initiative created to increase awareness for how and why digital infrastructure coming from Ireland – with global and Irish companies – plays a unique role around the world. Learn more in the Irish Data Centre Ecosystem Report.