Ireland’s position as a global digital hub joining Europe with North America is within a hair’s breadth of being realised if the country sticks to its 2020 renewable energy objectives, the managing director of TelecityGroup Ireland Maurice Mortell told Siliconrepublic.com.
Mortell has been a key figure in the rise of the data-centre industry in Ireland over the past 20 years. TelecityGroup acquired Irish data centre group Data Electronics in August 2011 for €100m.
TelecityGroup Ireland operates three carrier-neutral data centres in Dublin, with a combined capacity of more than 5,000 sq metres and 5MW of customer available power.
Across Dublin there are as many as 30 giant data centres that are the engine rooms of global e-commerce and are part of the fabric of the cloud of computing resources that the world’s 2bn internet users (and growing) will depend upon. They belong to players like Amazon, Yahoo!, Vodafone and many other technology brands.
In Clondalkin, Dublin, where TelecityGroup operates one of its major data centres, the neighbouring data centre community consists of Microsoft, Google and Digital Realty Trust. Next door to TelecityGroup, Microsoft maintains its US$640m data centre and next door to that rival Google has invested US$75m in a new energy-efficient data centre on 11 acres of land. Another major data-centre giant, Digital Realty Trust, has acquired a 10-acre site to build a 193,000 sq-foot data centre.
According to Mortell, Ireland is very close to realising its 2020 objectives of 16pc of all electricity coming from renewable energy.
For the digital economy, whose engine rooms are data centres, impeccable green credentials are essential and achieving that target would have a powerful effect.
“We have the story on our ambient temperature which we are well briefed on and we tick that box,” he said, referring to the fact that many of the latest generation of data centres use wind turbines to cool the servers down.
“We have pockets of restrictions around the capital where there’s not the available power required to build some of the larger sites, so location is very much dictated by what’s available off the grid and may dictate where some companies grow.
“On a very positive note, the US companies we speak to say our grid infrastructure is seen as one of the best in Europe if not in the world, it’s a top-class grid.
“It rarely goes down, continuity of service is excellent.
“In terms of renewables and green energy, we are still looking at 2020. Are we going to get to close to 20pc of supply from renewables by then? I’m not 100pc sure.”
But we are tantalisingly close, he adds. “We’re still at 78pc fossil-fuel usage at the moment but we’re heading in the right direction. A lot of effort is put into ensuring we are in and around that figure. That does dictate in some respects that can be seen as a big calling card. But remember, it is only one component in a bigger picture.”
Seismic shifts in the digital landscape
Mortell says that the past three years has represented the most seismic sift the data-centre industry has seen, going from a traditional IT outsourcing model to one where everything people do online, be it on e-commerce sites, smartphones or social networks, is supported by software or infrastructure as a service.
“This is a huge shift from where we would have started off delivering services.
“With the proliferation of mobile devices like tablet computers and people’s voracious appetite for content and media, this is driving a huge requirement for software (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and getting to the point that people can access that information and infrastructure as quickly as possible is driving a huge shift and a huge amount of growth in our industry at the moment.”
Mortell also says he doesn’t see why Ireland can’t continue to be successful in the digital economy.
“We’ve got some great credentials at the moment, the biggest tech giants. A lot of the retail players are already delivering services out of Ireland. We are probably in the top four or five destinations for data centres currently in Europe.”
However, Mortell says Ireland needs to be careful in some areas.
“Some of the areas we need to be a little careful in is our power pricing and how competitive that is when you look at the larger deployments, but even if you look at investments that continue to come in from Microsoft and Google and even ourselves, the investment that we’re doing in our own current environment and new sites, that is being sustained on the back of other business opportunities.
“I still think we are in a strong position to continue that growth now and into the future,” Mortell says.
He says Ireland is well served in terms of international communications connectivity but inside the country there is a long way to go to ensuring uniform, high-speed access and that there is still a digital divide between cities and towns and homes and businesses in rural areas.
One area of great optimism at present, he says, is the sheer energy around promising digital start-ups emerging in Ireland to trade on the global stage and he lauds efforts such as the Internet Growth Alliance involving Enterprise Ireland at putting CEOs in the right place and mindset to capitalise on the opportunities of this age.
Mortell cites gaming analytics company Swrve and digital fingerprinting company Trustev as the two start-ups he is most excited about at present.
He says what Ireland needs to focus on now is making sure that there sufficient capital available for follow-on investment in promising companies beyond the seed stage, which is well-served, pointing to the the €175m venture capital fund being established by the Irish Government through Enterprise Ireland.
“Most high-growth start-ups that are internet-based businesses will look to Enterprise Ireland when they are trying to develop their business and if they’re not at that stage, trying to do it themselves. It’s a long, hard road unless you have some very strong investors on board who know the ropes of how to internationalise business.”
Maurice Mortell will be a panelist at the Digital Ireland Forum: Global 2.0 on 20 September in Dublin, where digital leaders will discuss Ireland’s future as a hub for the best in internationally traded digital services.