By @tecdr

Gary Connolly, the founder and President of Host in Ireland, discusses why Ireland is the right place to have data centres, why Irish companies should store data in Ireland, data sovereignty and why cloud computing has been around for longer than we think.

You’re very fond of data centres in here.

Yeah.

And how do you think we should make the government and people realise why Ireland is the place to be.

Well, I’m very fond of data. I’m very fond of the actual data aspect that subsequently if you can crystalise your locations in an optimal place for the data, then the data centres come afterwards. So I think the first thing that Ireland needs to do is we need to start promoting more that we’re not from a place with the data. Cause when people hear we’re great for data centres, and that aspect, a lot of people switch off.

Yeah.

Cause they’re not engineers, or they’re not energy people, or they’re not coms people, or they’re not what people perceive as a very, very expensive large box. So when we talk about Ireland, and we should be talking about Ireland contemplating hosting data, and when you get into that question, then you’re starting the policy of it. And I think that like we spoke about today, with the corporation tax, with knowledge box, with policies, with pedigree, is to get people like Helen Dixon actually more front and centre. Those type of people to give clarity on exactly why so many will actually put their data here. Because more and more Ireland’s market is in the US, and more and more now it’s a C level question is about data sovereignty. Whereas before, the data centre it was always engineers, facilities people, operational people. And too many people talk about the data centre rather than juststart talking about the data. And the data story now is all around sovereignty of data.

Yeah, I know, because I’ve seen that because some companies like with Twitter have brought in rules that any data from outside North America is going to be stored in Ireland under Irish and European law. Sovereignty’s going to be a big part of that, I think.

Well you are hitting on another really interesting point because any system that’s 15 years old, this is the point I make is that this safe harbor issue is 15 years old. Now I was at the web summit last week, and from what I can see, nothing lasts relevant past 15 minutes.

Safe HarborSo to have a system that’s in place, the fundamental fabric of the system is 15 years old. A man with a wooden head knows you got to change that.

Yeah.

Cause there wasn’t this proliferation of digital media. There wasn’t this proliferation of devices to use digital 15 years ago. So the fact that we’re out now suddenly realizing, oh, we better fix that, it’s just a natural progression. You know, it’s just a natural progression of where we are today. If it wasn’t the Facebook case, it would be something else. So it’s a matter of bringing that up to fit for purpose.

Yeah.

And in terms of Ireland, to answer your question, I think Ireland particularly when you look at how we project ourselves internationally, we could do a lot better in converting a lot of the companies that are already here to host their content here.

Yeah.

Interviewee: Because again, data centres and data in our minds tend to be, Oh, you must be ICT company, or an ecommerce company, or a B2C company, when actually, there’s no such thing as a non-digital company. Whether you’re healthcare, life sciences, biocare, pharmaceuticals. Every company now is either, they won’t be around in 24 months if the fundamental fact, fabric of their organization and the decisions they make isn’t based on access to timely and accurate information. And that timely and accurate information has to reside somewhere. And so what we need to do now in Ireland is say to the pharmaceutical, life sciences, and other leading sectors that we’re in, do you know what?

Digital AssetsHosting in Ireland isn’t just for Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other ICT companies. You can start to talk about life sciences. And then you enter data protection. It all leads back to okay, we’re going to bring our DNA profiling. We’re going to have to put that somewhere. Where are we going to put it? Well, you’re going to put it somewhere that you feel that sovereignty of the data is going to be protected as best it can.

Yeah.

So I think we got to disconnect sort of the data centre from the data cause that’s like talking about. I’m not sure what car you drive, but let’s say a guy who’s buying a Ford, or even a BMW. You don’t want to talk about the spark plug to the sales man. You don’t want to talk about the sump. You’re probably going to want to talk about the mileage, the fuel efficiency, or something like that, or the smoothness of ride.

Yeah.

But that’s like selling Ireland as an optimum place for data centers, it’s saying we’ve got great spark plugs. Only a certain amount of people are interested in that. Bring it up the level. And I think it’s a crescendo of things coming to their level. Maybe when I write the book I’ll say, Oh, I strategically foresaw all this safe harbor stuff, but that is the slap in the face for C levels globally.

Yeah, well I remember a few years ago there was a county council down in Kerry, they figured Ireland was going to be more cloud, and move to a cloud environment. One guy said when they were in a meeting we’re okay in Kerry look outside, look at the clouds outside.  They didn’t quite understand that. And saying with data storage and data, nobody knows that they’re both separate. Every machine does all the same thing as you said, and you got to re-educate them that it’s not.

Well that’s it, that’s it. And you know we’re starting from a great place. You know, we’re starting from a place where we’re not an emerging space. We’re actually an evolving space. And I gave a talk recently, and it was great because it was a group of older engineers who were grappling a little bit with this whole cloud. And so I did an evolution slide where I showed hands up who understand punch cards? Hand up who understands tape drives? right the way through to who understands a fob? And they all say, yeah, yeah. I said then if you understand what they do, how they do it, then you understand cloud computing and the storage element of a cloud computer. Because it is an evolution. And I said it this morning about Microsoft when they came here in 82, or 84, they took a three and a half or five and a quarter inch floppy, they put it into a box, they put a mouse with it, they put it into a box, into a forty foot container and sent it over to Duisburg. Now the software element of that they still do it. They just send it over a fiber optic cable.

Yeah.

But it’s just the evolution of how we deliver, store, and access data.

Yeah.

So that then there are people going, oh wow, yeah, I understand that, therefore I understand cloud. The big opportunity for us is to take what we have, which is a serious pedigree in about six sectors globally through or foreign direct investment. One is cloud computing. Healthcare, pharmaceutical, and now start the discussion down those sectors as to what those industries are looking for as they look to host data more.

Yeah.

And we’ve already got the cement, that’s the data centres. Now we’re trying to find out what their specific requirements are, rather than we’re fine on the hyper scales, there are only five of them, we have them all.

Yeah.

You know, Watson or the professor in IBM, in 1948, said the world’s only big enough for five computers?

Yeah.

He’s probably right. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Alibaba.

Yeah.

You know, maybe.

Yeah.

You know but you get the gist, it’s evolving into that and in thirty, forty years, our kids won’t the same ways we don’t obsess over electricity now. Fifty years ago, you had to make sure there was economies of scale enough people in the region that would warrant this all. You know, so that is where a cloud would go to. At the moment I think we’ve got a great base, but I just think it’d be nice if we started to sectorise it, and go after the emerging content generators. In one healthcare, a lot of the pharmaceuticals, biocare, that’s huge, massive.

And also I mean the weather here, if we can say the weather is so good here, because it’s never too cold, never too warm. You’re going to save costs on it.

Yeah, in the United States they call us Goldilocks, because the weather’s not too hot and not too cold. But I think that’s not big enough a differentiator because we’re a temperate climate.

Yeah.

Which is similar enough to anywhere else in the temperate climate. So all of it is moving towards well, if our data centers are being made more and more in factories, and if they’re being delivered in forty foot containers, and if the weather certainly is a differentiator to the Nevada desert. It’s all about the data. That’s why we disconnect as I tried to explain this morning the oil from the actual barrel.

Yeah.

The barrel, you can make pretty much anywhere now. Data centres are as efficient give or take, but why would you put your data. You can build cheap data centres in Siberia if you want. You’d be at 100% hydroelectricity, and you’ll probably run at one cent a kilowatt hour. But then you look at, well, why would you put your data there? They don’t even recognise data privacy, data protection. So it’s more the discussion now is more going towards the data. And the more people we educate that the data is the magic. And the data in sectors that aren’t obvious currently.

Yeah.

And if we can get the reputation of that, then the jobs come. That’s what I was trying to explain as well. The North Virginia Technology Council is in North Virginia. They didn’t have an ecosystem for technology at all 15 years ago. They identified that, you know what? We have an opportunity to build large data centres, which has the data. And now they have the largest cluster of data scientists in North America. It acts as even though you and I both know, well is that not the whole purpose of cloud computing that you can have the storage in the computer anywhere?

Yeah.

And there you go. People still like to be able to say, it’s down the road. The people working on it are down the road.

It’s cloud, but if you can manage the cloud, make sure the cloud isn’t that far away because I hate when someone tells me, we store it in the cloud., and I ask them, where do you store it? Oh, we don’t know. Well, surely you should know where it’s been stored. You store it in a country where there could be a regime change, or somewhere like Thailand where you have floods and everything else.

Correct, but I guess as well that we’re going through just an evolutionary stage of I won’t say the wild west, but there’s a lot of everything’s evolving at such a pace, you know, and everything is trying to come to an end point at the same time because there’s such a rush now with the brilliance of the edge devices.

Yeah.

You know, the edge devices, that’s what was missing in ’99.

Yeah.

Cause the technology in the data centres, I could bring you to data centres in Ireland that were built in 1999 that are more expensive, and more over engineered, more resilient in redundancy than they’re building now. But there was nothing generating the content because we’ve got WAP and text messages which was about the extent of what was generating the cloud.

Yeah. Wow, that’s terrible.

It was terrible. And that’s why it failed, it was nothing to generate the level of content. Now we’ve got Huawei introducing a 13 megapixel camera phone for $15?

Yeah.

Now can somebody explain to me that two minutes of that at high definition on a video is equivalent to all my life’s Word, Microsoft Word files.

Yeah. That’s crazy.

That’s just nuts.

Yeah.

So when you think about that, then that’s driving, driving, driving. The infrastructure is give or take, okay, and then you say, well like what you’ve just said there, now people are asking questions about sovereignty. Okay, it’s in the cloud. Okay, well, that’s great because then therefore it’s always available. But what if?

Yeah.

And there’s lots of money to be made by asking that question with compliance, and risk people, and all the rest. So I think it’s a crescendoing of and a lot of the issues that you mentioned earlier, and I even mentioned today, is not unique to Ireland. But my feeling is you tend to remember in my life, the fellow who told you something first.

Hyperscale

You tend to whether he’s right or wrong, if he introduces you to a new idea, or he introduces you to a new concept. And I suppose that’s what we’re trying to do with hosting in Ireland. We’re trying to say, okay, everybody else in geographic areas is still obsessing over power pipes and sheds.

Yeah.

They’re looking and why don’t we say the real issue, the real issue is sovereignty of data. That’s why we’re bringing Helen Dixon right into the lion’s den.

That’s good.

To say that is the issue. It’s not all solved yet, but that’s not unique to Ireland. But we acknowledge it at such a level. That’s what I think you saw in the room there is that most of the people in there are data center owners, call location people, people who own hired services.

Yeah.

And yet their number one priority to get amplified is data protection compliance stuff and that’s vision.

Yeah. Any business now in Ireland is held in data, no matter how big or small they are. So they’ve all got a stake hold in this, regardless.

Well, yeah, and whether you’re a foreign direct investment company, or startups who have it easier because they don’t have a decision to make as they just go cloud. You know, operation costs point of view. Now and they’re like the generation of you know, we better make sure that we have a good user policy, or a good license agreement and stuff, but they don’t talk about, will I go cloud, will I not go cloud, will I go AWS, will I go Azure.

Yeah.

Versus what? Buy your own stuff, and have that overhead of cost, and have that whole overhead of managing people that no platform has a service, software is a service, infrastructure.

Yeah.

They don’t even think about that. They just go, hmm, AWS, spin off 15 instances. Spin it down when I don’t need it. And where as there’s still organisations that are resisting that for lots of reasons.

Yeah, the problem is you’ve got somebody who’s been there forty or fifty years, 40 an accountant, bean counter, who doesn’t know any better, he doesn’t want to know any better. He knows what’s happening in his own little environment.

Yeah. 

And he never been to anywhere else, he doesn’t want to know because I don’t know how it works.

There’s a bit of that, and there’s also then you’ve got to look at the hard optics of they just maybe invested a lot of money three years ago, you know. They bought hardware or they bought software, and they’ve got to sweat that asset.

Yeah.

And therefore that’s inhibiting them. But that’ll go through its natural progress, and then somebody who’s coming in ten years younger, they’ll say, I’ve never owned anything in my life.

Yeah.

So why are we still holding on to this type of stuff? So it’s just true there’s a word somebody said osmosis of the youth coming through. They’ll say, You know, I’ve never owned anything in my life. I rent everything. Even the phone you’ve got is probably locked into a contract.

Yeah, it is. Everyone’s got that.

It was called higher purchase when I was a kid. Well, you know you’re paying €10, €15 a month more.

Exactly, yeah.

But it’s just as a service, and you’ll probably trade it in, and you’ll be left with like the bullet payment at the end and you’ll be able to sell your old phone for €100. But you’re paying so everything is nearly as a service, you know.

Yeah, well with my phone every couple of years I get a new one, and they make sure when you get a new one it cost nothing because the cost of the new phone, can be offset by selling your old phone. I sell my old phone to my parents.

That’s right.

And I tell them, if you’re going to buy a phone like mine in the shop second hand or whatever, you pay more money, so you’re getting a good deal.

You’re getting a great deal, and you probably look after it. It looks like you do after it. And what I like to bring to the story, cause everybody says, oh, that cloud and all this, it’s all technical stuff. The cloud is nothing, in my opinion, to do with technology. It’s all to do with how you run a business.

Yeah.

And that’s as we saw today. Companies that didn’t exist three, five years ago. AirBnB, Uber, WhatsApp.

Yeah.

Didn’t exist, and now they are absolutely decimating markets with their flexibility. But the most important thing and I’m around a little bit longer than maybe yourself, is the obsession that these companies have with two things: seeing access to devices and just exactly what they are, tools.

Yeah.

That’s what AWS, and smartphones, and stuff, and a complete obsession with the end user. Complete obsession, empowering the end user.