Ireland’s cloudy climate an asset for cloud computing

25 Sep 2009

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I never thought I would see the day that Ireland would be grateful for its cool Atlantic climate, but yesterday the world’s biggest software giant Microsoft gave US$500m worth of reasons why soft Irish weather will be an asset for cloud computing.

It’s not that Ireland’s weather is particularly bad, it’s just never been particularly great. You will never suffer from frostbite or third-degree sunburn here. Temperatures rarely sink below -5 C or rise above 27 C. It’s just … well, the economic storm clouds have been pretty severe on this Atlantic-blasted rock and we needed some good news.

Ireland’s prowess in attracting global technology giants has been well documented, but the country’s recession-weary populous needed some reminding of that fact. We needed a jolt of confidence.

That reminder came in the form of Microsoft’s US$500m ‘mega’ data centre that will serve as the fulcrum for all of the software giant’s EMEA activities from Bing to MSN, the Azure cloud computing platform and software plus services in the form of Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

The key word here is "green" – not just because of the colour of the Irish football team’s shirt but because the country’s ambient temperatures make it an ideal location for data-centre activity. To date, more than 20 data centres have been built in the city, ranging from service providers like Data Electronics and Interxion to company-specific data centres owned by Vodafone and Google.

The other key word here is "cloud" – a major trend that will define personal and business computing for the next decade. This will be a world where key software applications will be hosted online and key business technologies can be accessed via the internet and rented for a "per use" fee. This effectively ensures that businesses can manage their spend on IT rather than paying big lump sums for one-off projects.

According to a survey by Irish IT company Sysco on behalf of the Irish Internet Association, 85pc of cloud-computing projects in Ireland have so far been a success, but despite this the survey of 200 senior managers across professional services, financial services, manufacturing and the public sector on behalf of the Irish Internet Association by Sysco found that generally, understanding of cloud computing is poor in Ireland.

Asked whether they had a clear understanding of cloud computing, 43pc said no. When vendors were excluded, this lack of understanding grew to 54pc. Some 43pc of IT managers admitted they did not have a clear understanding and a staggering 85pc of finance managers declared the same.

Despite the lack of clear understanding, 43pc have high confidence in the promise of cloud computing.

The new 303,000 sq-foot facility, based in Dublin, will help meet the continued growth in demand for Microsoft’s Online, Live and Cloud services, such as Bing, Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite, Windows Live, and the Windows Azure platform.

The US$500m investment in the facility builds on the history of investment that Microsoft has made in Ireland over the past 24 years and is a further sign of its continued commitment to Ireland as a strategic location for many global and EMEA operations.

The investment in the facility is part of Microsoft’s long-term commitment in the region, and is a major step in realising Microsoft’s Software plus Services strategy. It is also the next evolutionary step in Microsoft’s commitment to thoughtfully building its cloud computing capacity and network infrastructure throughout the region to meet the demand.

The data centre has been officially recognised by the European Commission’s Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign as a “best practice” in environmental sustainability design through its innovative design which has made it 50pc more energy efficient than traditional data centres built three years ago. The data centre increases hardware utilisation, reduces the use of resources like water and electricity, and reduces waste material.

The new "mega" data centre has taken about 1 million man hours to complete and involved a workforce of close to 2,100 people at its peak. For the past year it has been the largest construction project in the Irish State.

Microsoft

“This site will be the infrastructural hub for online services and cloud computing across Microsoft,” said Paul Rellis, Microsoft’s general manager, at the opening of the centre in Dublin. “The idea of setting up a data centre had been discussed for some time as an idea. Proving that from small acorns, big trees grow, we now have a journey of innovation and optimism ahead of us.

“The thing to think of here is that as we build our smart economy, this centre could provide opportunities for Irish software companies that are developing applications for the cloud. This is another chapter in the evolution of Microsoft in Ireland and won’t be the last. The thing we care most about when developing the smart economy in Ireland is the reality that the best chance we have and our kids will have is through the growth of small businesses using web technology to export to overseas markets,” Rellis said.

The president of Microsoft International, Jean-Philippe Courtois added: “Twenty-five years ago, Microsoft saw the potential for Ireland to become a global strategic hub.” Today, the company employs 1,200 people, having evolved from a manufacturing operation to higher value software development and operational work.

“By locating this facility here, Microsoft is demonstrating its continued commitment to Ireland. This will become the place where the internet lives – we are seeing a massive growth in internet services and the heart of this will be reliable infrastructure. More and more businesses are moving online and the key tools will rely on data centres that host cloud computing.

“The benefit of cloud computing is that the technology will be available for cheaper, more reliable and more secure than what you can do yourself. Businesses will only pay for what they will use rather than paying for expensive services.

“Cloud computing and the evolution of software-as-a-service offers is a major opportunity for Ireland to be a pioneer for the digital economy,” Courtois said. “Ireland has already distinguished itself. Our Bizspark programme here saw the highest participation of small companies in the world, proving the country already has a very vibrant developer community embracing cloud computing.”

The head of all infrastructure projects that Microsoft engages with Arne Josefsberg revealed that Microsoft has been operating internet services in Ireland for quite some time already, having set up its first presence for MSN here in 2000.

Josefsberg said that at the heart of Microsoft’s decision to locate the data centre in Ireland was the company’s green agenda and Ireland’s fresh, green and cool climate.

“This is the first mega Microsoft data centre outside the US and will be the hub for delivering services outside North America. The data centre will dramatically improve sustainability.”

He pointed out that the data centre, which will have five collocation centres, will consume some 5.4 megawatts of critical power capacity and this has the capability to grow up to 22.2 megawatts. “We aim to keep building on to this data centre as the business demands it. We are already started on growing the next trance and that will be ready in 2010.

Referring to Ireland’s climate Josefsberg said: “This is one of the best places in the world to build a data centre. It’s an excellent climate and is perhaps one of the most environmentally sustainable because of its temperatures.”

He said that the new data centre takes advantage of the climate. Ireland’s prevailing westerly winds will drive air into the data centre which cools all the servers and networking equipment inside. “Traditional data centres use chillers which use a lot of water. Water is actually becoming one of the scarcest resources on the planet. In addition to energy saving, this data centre reduces water consumption to 1pc of a typical data centre. From a power reduction perspective, this data centre uses 50pc less electricity than traditional data centres.”

As I parted with Josefsberg, I reminded him about the cool weather factor, we have it in abundance here.

By John Kennedy

Photos: Topmost photo – the interior of the new data centre. Above -Microsoft Ireland general manager Paul Rellis, left, Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD, and the president of Microsoft International Jean-Philippe Courtois.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com