The Friday Interview: Jason O’Conaill, Interxion

8 Apr 2005

When data centres were in their heyday in 2000, Interxion was among the first arrivals to set up in Dublin. When the sector went into serious decline, along with the dotcom and telecoms downturn, Interxion was one of the few to survive and emerge from the debris fighting. Jason O’Conaill (pictured), sales and marketing manager at Interxion, believes these facilities are now vital to corporates, SMEs and the Government.

To write about telecoms and data centres in 2005 emotes a strange feeling amongst technology journalists who wrote obituaries for the sector in 2001. Data centres, otherwise known as ‘the engine rooms of e-commerce’, were all the rage in 1999/2000 when the IDA spearheaded what seems now a visionary strategy to roll out the infrastructure that the internet giants would need when choosing Ireland as a gateway into Europe.

The initial success turned sour quicker than anyone expected. Some 22 data centres set up shop at various points around the country; within 18 months more than half of these would be gone out of business along with a global downturn that consumed thousands of jobs and billions of euro of investors’ cash.

The remaining centres survived by having a strong customer base that required their services. It wasn’t that the IDA had got it wrong, it was simply the agency’s strategy was rudely interrupted by a calling of time on an investment cycle likened to the 17th-Century Dutch tulip auctions. In the past two years the agency’s strategy has borne fruit with the capture of a list of projects that reads like a who’s who of the internet — Amazon, Google, eBay and Yahoo! to name a few — giving Ireland an overwhelming array of internet content providers.

Among the 11 data centres that stood firm in the eye of the storm was Interxion, a pan-European operator with 20 data centres across Europe. It supports more than 650 customers including enterprises, content providers, mobile service providers and hosting and telecoms companies. Services such as equipment housing, onsite engineering and maintenance, connectivity solutions and a range of monitoring services provide customers with solutions to better manage their ICT and internet infrastructure.

Interxion’s group of data centres is supported by a central European service centre with a multilingual team offering technical assistance to customers 24/7. Since its foundation, Interxion has raised more than €320m from a group of investors around the world, including Baker Capital, Residex, Bear Stearns, BNP Paribas, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston and Morgan Stanley.

O’Conaill believes the companies that have survived are fighting fit. “Data centres are filling up rapidly at the moment. There has been a steady increase in occupancy rates in the last year and a half. This is being driven through growth in three areas. Firstly, US multinationals such as Amazon and Google are establishing major internet projects in Dublin. The second factor is mobile telecoms and general telecoms companies are increasing their infrastructure and players such as Vodafone and O2 are looking for backup and disaster recovery for their infrastructure. The final factor is that you have European and indigenous corporates using data centres more and more. The perception that there’s lots of space out there is wrong, occupancy rates are increasing steadily.”

According to O’Conaill, the difference between the data centre boom of 2000 and the current environment is that data centres are not only relevant to internet firms but ordinary small, medium and large businesses complying with new regulations and striving to manage their IT needs better. “Organisations are bound by legislation to retain data and ensure the integrity of their data. The most important issue is to have a clear data management policy within the organisation and make resources available to your IT people to deliver that function. If you under-resource your people your data protection policy may not be followed. Because there are huge volumes of data to be retained you have to have a clear policy. That policy could take up a full backup on network and an incremental backup of everything on the network.”

He also believes data centres can play a vital role in future IT security policy in terms of the backup and recovery of important information assets. “Companies need to have a security policy that is clear to all the staff, not just the IT people. The biggest threat comes from within the organisation in terms of lax security procedures on such things as remote email access and even simple things such as memory sticks. You can simply stick one into a computer and download everything in seconds. Laptops are another security threat, if stolen from cars or elsewhere. The data is usually more valuable than the laptop itself. I heard recently of a pop star who had a laptop, BlackBerry and phone stolen from his car. That laptop should have been backed up completely elsewhere and in seconds the person could have done a full restore of the laptop and wouldn’t have lost anything. Simple things such as remote backup can save a lot of hassle.”

It has been reported on that the Government is considering building its own data centre. I put it to O’Conaill that this must be a source of consternation to data centre providers eager to win business after four years of struggling to survive. On the contrary, he argues business is so good that it might be a relief if the Government builds its own data centre. “The Government may have no choice but to build its own data centre. All the remaining data centres are filling up rapidly and there may not be enough large suitable space for the Government to occupy in privately owned facilities. The Government should have taken a decision a few years ago to procure large volumes of data centre space to provide its needs. If it acts now it could probably secure a good facility,” he concludes.

By John Kennedy