Interview – Gary Connolly

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Interview – Gary Connolly

President, Host in Ireland

Priscillia Charles, Communications Director, VTQ

Host in Ireland positions Ireland as an optimum location to host digital assets. Can you go into some detail about why Ireland is considered a prime destination? 

Ireland is considered a prime destination due to its maintaining the key principles that address the six main benefits sought by companies looking to host their valuable digital assets.

We like to call them the “6 Ps”: Policy, Pedigree, People, Power, Pipes and Proximity:

  • “Policy” is for the pro-business economic environment as well as political stability;
  • “Pedigree” focuses on Ireland being the digital gateway for leading data-centric companies for six decades;
  • “People” focuses on the continued creation, retention and attraction of a skilled labour pool;
  • “Power” is key for access to affordable power, high-level security and reliability;
  • “Pipes” exemplifies a redundant network and the bandwidth of off-island fibre capacity to the EU and North America; and
  • “Proximity,” stands for a well-established cluster of the world’s leading “hyperscale” and colocation providers making it an exceptional location for digital assets hosting within the EU.

As detailed in our recent “Ireland’s Data Hosting Industry 2018 Q2 Update,” we recently addressed the sustainability of the Irish data hosting industry. This report showed investment momentum in Ireland’s data center industry that continues to grow with more than €1 billion of new projects announced in early 2018 alone with an additional €2 billion in development or planning.

What kind of strategy is in place to attract companies into Ireland?

Data centers, along with the ecosystem and cluster that have established Ireland as a Tier 1 location of choice for global companies to host their data, continue the legacy of the past six decades with Ireland being seen as the gateway to Europe for global companies particularly from the U.S. This evolved in the 1950’s with companies like IBM and through the establishment of data hosting centers in Ireland by Microsoft, Amazon, Digital Realty, Equinix and others.

The hosting of digital assets in Ireland is a critical part of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) offering. Ireland continues to demonstrate and execute on a cost-effective and efficient proposition. The digital asset hosting (data center) industry does not receive any particular incentives to locate in Ireland other than what is on offer via the IDA (the state body responsible for FDI). As the global data industry has evolved, Ireland has continued to keep pace with issues such as renewable energy, diverse connectivity and data privacy. The latter has become more relevant since GDPR came into effect on 25th May. Ireland post-Brexit is the only native English speaking nation in the EU; this has added another differentiator for companies looking for confidence in a jurisdiction that clearly understands the issues at hand with respect to privacy, security and data sovereignty. 

At Host in Ireland, we strive to provide both timely and accurate information on the state and advantages of the Irish proposition, including facilitating connections through our premier partner ecosystem, generating industry reports, hosting pavilions at industry conferences and events, engaging with thought-leaders and influencers on social media, conducting video interviews, and more.

Can you tell us about your role at Host in Ireland?

I am both Founder and President of Host in Ireland. In 2014, I realized that Ireland needed a strategic global initiative that would increase awareness of the benefits of hosting digital assets in Ireland. Since 2016, we promote Irish-based companies who design, build and operate data centers globally from headquarters in Ireland. Ireland has been part of the globalization discussion within U.S. companies for the past six decades. However, we were concerned that Ireland was only being perceived as a location for hosting if you were a hyperscale or cloudscale class of company, like Amazon, Google, Microsoft or Facebook. While obviously a very important and growing part of the opportunity, there remained a significant opportunity in other sectors of the digital asset hosting industry: colocation, retail/wholesale hosting, and of course, enterprise, domain of Interxion, Equinix, Digital Realty, Keppel DC and EdgeConneX. This is our key promotion message. 

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) builds momentum, it is clear that it is built on the creation, analysis, and distribution of secure and timely data. The location of where this data is hosted matters as it acts as the catalyst for economic activity. I see data residing in Ireland having a double role, both direct and indirect.

As detailed by the recent Grant Thornton and IDA report, the current data centers in Ireland directly employ 6,000 high paid technicians. There are a further 18,000 indirect jobs (3:1 multiplier) in services including telecom, energy, network operating centers, security, equipment and ancillary services not to mention the economic dividends generated by the €1 billion per annum spend that is planned for at least the next three years.

What kind of value has been brought to Ireland from companies choosing it as a hosting site?

This growth in data centers has created a strong infrastructure in Ireland, making it attractive and accessible to more companies, further expanding the economy with each new development, and allowing for further investment and job opportunities throughout the country. 

Host in Ireland has an Advisory Council and an Executive Committee — how does this integrate with Host In Ireland activities and help to serve to the overall strategy? 

Host in Ireland values the opinions and expertise of the professionals, decision-makers and thought leaders in our space. For this reason, we created a Host in Ireland Advisory Council and Executive Committee; it is their input that drives our agenda and underpins the ultimate goals of the initiative. 

The Host in Ireland Advisory Council furthers the reach and impact of the initiative’s mission through well-formulated strategies based on our members’ industry experience. The group articulates the goals of the initiative, gathering input from and providing of the initiative, gathering input from and providing feedback to the community, determining important activities, ensuring effective planning, and enhancing the organization’s public standing. Members are responsible for evaluating the performance of the initiative by reviewing, monitoring and assessing progress. They also serve as advocates for Host in Ireland partners and act as liaisons with relevant constituencies, providing technical expertise as well as an independent and unbiased sounding board. Executive Committee members are a crucial aspect of the initiative, responsible for goal-setting and determining important activities, enhancing the organization’s public standing and evaluating Host in Ireland’s performance. The group also serves as advocates for specific partner companies, and, similar to the Advisory Council, act as liaisons with relevant constituencies.

Are you seeing an increase in global companies outside of Europe looking to host digital assets in the EU at this time?

Companies like Microsoft, Zendesk, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Adobe and others have already established IT operations and data hosting in Ireland. According to our report “Ireland’s Data Hosting Industry 2018 Q2 Update,” growth of global companies seeking to host digital assets in EU, and specifically Ireland, shows no signs of stagnation. 

Ireland and the Netherlands, are the two leading hosting clusters in Europe for U.S. companies looking for a place to call home for their data requirements in the EU. The current growth in the EU market, including Britain, is being driven in large part by U.S. hyperscale and cloudscale companies. With the recent changes to data privacy and security standards via GDPR and Brexit, many of these companies have been forced to re-examine their hosting strategies. 

With over 550 million EU citizens and high penetration of Internet access, Europe is certainly on the map of non-EU players in the data space. This includes Chinese heavyweights Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. While they have set up some small hosting in EU, no significant large-scale projects have been announced. That being said, they will enter the market as and when they decide to, bringing products like Alipay and Wechat to Europe. 

To provide some context, over 95% of the Irish data hosting market is owned, operated or managed by non-EU entities, with 483 megawatts (MW) of operational data center capacity in Ireland, as well as an estimated 344 MW master-planned, 184 MW in the application/planning process, 305 MW approved planning permissions, and 138 MW of data center construction projects underway.

With the recent GDPR implementation, how has this impacted the data hosting industry?

In today’s world of increasing automation and decreasing human interaction, protecting private data and avoiding breaches is critical, especially when those breaches have the capacity to destroy lives — Equifax being a case in point. With IDC estimating that 4% of all data in circulation by 2025 will be categorized as “life-altering,” the need for legislation with real teeth is needed, not just in EU but also globally. 

It is a fundamental human right to be able to own your own identity, and GDPR sets a framework for us to be able to do so. With everything that is at stake, best practice just doesn’t cut it anymore. The fundamentals of privacy and security within the companies designing, storing and manipulating
data is both expected and fundamental for building trust in the “connected planet.”

With respect to GDPR and the hosting industry, it is very early days for GDPR, and its effectiveness will be proven only when cases are made and legal decisions are taken. From a hosting perspective, it certainly has focused the minds of U.S. and APAC companies realizing that it is prudent to host personal data about EU citizens within the EU, including Ireland.

How has the data hosting industry landscape changed in recent years?

The proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT), compounded by a growing number of enterprises moving applications into the cloud, has created an influx of data being generated and thus, the need for it to be hosted. 

The dominant word in the data hosting industry is proximity. Proximity to “things” is the driving force behind the edge data center discussion. These data centers will be in municipalities and close to the things that will drive our day-to-day lives and communities. Data centers’ proximity to each other, for example, Dublin and Amsterdam, is also important. According to Cisco and others, over 85% of all data will be transferred from data center-to-data center; therefore, their proximity to each other matters. The third proximity is to renewable and affordable energy; not all data is as important or as critical (think surgery through virtual/augmented reality versus a Facebook photo). The need to have large “data warehouses” is now emerging to store the less critical data. 

You have been speaking around the world on the subject of the ‘connected planet’ can you expand on the main points of this talk?

For decades, we’ve been discussing a “connected planet.” We can now finally (and honestly) say that it’s within our sights. As of June 2017, 51% of the world’s population has Internet access; and although some may still only have dial-up or modem access to broadband, we’re making great strides. 

We’re moving toward a state where we can have always on, always available and always accessible data across a wide range of devices. I believe the crux of this is standardization on IP and the provisioning of highly resilient and available storage and computing services that can be purchased on a pay-per-use or operating expense (OpEx) basis.

A connected planet means a lot more than being able to connect with loved ones or business associates; it means changes to business processes and the very models they are built on, bridging cultures and bringing economic prosperity to under-served regions, applying technology to agriculture to
end world hunger, advances in medicine to cure incurable diseases, and so much more. 

The implementation of 5G and the automation of vehicles, not to mention AI and deep learning technologies make them available to anyone who has a browser and a smart device. This means that the lack of formal education and available capital is becoming less important for developers, dreamers and innovators no matter where they live or call home.

This article first appeared in VTQ Magazine. 
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https://vtqglobal.com/