IDA Ireland’s Pat Howlin: building a cloud ecosystem (video)

9 Nov 2012

IDA Ireland’s senior vice-president in charge of ICT Pat Howlin says Ireland is building a considerable ecosystem around the cloud in order to be in an unassailable position to capture the opportunities of the world’s next industrial revolution, which will centre on big data and will transcend all industry types.

As Howlin describes it, the groundwork for the cloud revolution as it exploded on Ireland’s shores was laid in the 1970s and 1980s as some of the longest-serving software companies arrived in the country.

He has a point. Many came then to localise and package physical copies of their software before shipping it around the world.

The majority of these companies are still in Ireland, only their work has evolved to be digital, analytic and cloud-based. Joining them are many of the born-on-the-web companies that rose up in the last decade and a new generation born within the last two years.

These companies, Howlin explains, are focused on a new business model that harnesses the evolution of technology but in a way that provides a business model that transcends all industries, from food production to pharmaceuticals, communications and digital entertainment.

Pat Howlin video interview:

Digital capital of Europe

Dublin is one of Europe’s densest clusters of data centres, with up to 30 in operation around the city. Back in February, for instance, Microsoft announced it was investing an extra US$130m to expand its data centre in Profile Park in Clondalkin, Co Dublin. Also in February, US data centre provider Digital Realty Trust announced it had acquired a 10-acre site in Profile Park. It said the site would be capable of supporting a 193,000 sq-foot data centre that would require 11.5 megawatts of electricity.

And, last September, Google revealed its intention to invest US$75m in a new energy-efficient data centre on 11 acres of land, also in Profile Park.

As well as this, TelecityGroup, which acquired Irish data centre group Data Electronics in August 2011 for €100m, operates three carrier-neutral data centres in Dublin.

“Ireland is playing a very significant part in the global cloud economy at the moment. We hear the word cloud used a lot; it’s become part of our common language along with other terms lesser known, like big data and data analytics and business intelligence and visualisation and so forth.

“But essentially what it really means is it is an evolution of technology and an evolution of information and data delivery, how we use the information that is generated through the internet primarily these days. So when you look back on it, Ireland has built up over the years the basis for what I would call the digital ecosystem.

“We have the technology companies who came here initially to manufacture products and to serve the European market – companies like Apple, Intel, EMC, HP and they are now the leading international companies in the cloud space. They are also leading the world in the technology for cloud and big data, as well as the delivery systems and the business models in terms of how you deliver that.”

In terms of the infrastructural ecosystem required to support cloud and big data industries, Howlin says Ireland is well served in terms of connectivity in and out of the country and that vital work is under way to ensure high-speed networks crisscross the land.

“The connectivity is building as we speak both onto and off the island but equally in terms of plans to distribute that around the island of Ireland which is clearly important, as well.

“There is also the provision of the energy infrastructure to support the operation of data centres both from a cost point of view but also from a sustainability point of view in terms of the Government’s programme to use sustainable and renewable energy.

“Our geographic location and our position in terms of our mild climate is a significant advantage in terms of the cooling requirements for the data centres and in terms of the ambient environment.

“We have all those building blocks that are being seen and recognised by companies who are continuing to grow and expand data centre activities – both company data centres like Microsoft and Google and Amazon and EMC and so forth, but also by the independent providers who are also coming in to support the delivery of the activity from here.”

Preparing the nation for the next industrial revolution

Howlin says we are in the third industrial revolution of the last 300 years. “The last one in the 20th century changed society in terms of electricity, the combustion engine and communications. We are currently 50 years into the third industrial revolution based on the computer chip and the internet.

“The three characteristics that distinguish this from previous industrial revolutions is that it is cloud-based, it is global and it is very customer centric and that is the core of the opportunity for Ireland. It is a technology opportunity and it is a business services delivery opportunity.

“So what we are doing is building the ecosystem around that across all sectors. We have the multinational companies here that are leading in this. We have many Irish companies who are also providing some of the really good clever software that’s underpinning that. We are building the R&D capabilities both within companies and through funded programmes with Science Foundation Ireland and the Higher Education Authority, building that capability to support the industry.”

Howlin says there are three strings to IDA Ireland’s strategy to prepare Ireland to be an integral player in the next industrial revolution.

In the first instance, Howlin says work is under way to ensure the cloud infrastructure opportunity extends to other industries beyond ICT. He said about 60pc of investments in the ICT sector in Ireland are going into cloud infrastructure as companies like EMC, Microsoft, HP, Amazon, Accenture, Google and HP get ready to serve global demand.

“Then there are the mid-tier companies that are not already here and we are achieving great in the way of companies like Aspect Software, Total Defence, HubSpot and YapStone, which is locating its international activities here.

“The emerging companies that are really driving the technology behind this space are a key focus for us. We’ve seen companies like Marketo and Engine Yard arrive, as well as more recent ones like Extensys going into Limerick, KeyedIn Solutions going into Letterkenny and Zendesk coming to Dublin.

“We are building out all three elements of this and the activities are right in that space. The three activities we are focusing on in this area are R&D and technology development, global business services because this is global and cloud-based, and connectivity opportunities.

“Those are the three areas that we are marketing Ireland for and we are achieving big success in right now,” Howlin says.

Join Ireland’s digital leaders who will gather to discuss cloud computing and the big data revolution at the Cloud Capital Forum on Friday, 23 November, at the Convention Centre Dublin

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years