'We're building the digital infrastructure for the future' - Equinix Irish boss
Data is not the new oil, it's inherently more valuable. And, with the number tech firms investing funds into creating data centres here, Ireland has become a big player across the European market.
When any firm looks set for expansion, one of the first queries is how much direct employment will be created from the investment.
But the Irish boss of Equinix, a global data centre provider who is continuing to expand here, maintains that we need to be looking at the larger picture.
"The real thing that we're doing here is building the digital infrastructure for the future, and that's really what we should be thinking about. Here's the core building blocks for our digital economy," Managing director for Ireland and emerging markets at Equinix, Maurice Mortell told Independent.ie.
"We lose sight of that as we talk about power and building and employment but it's about the data infrastructure. It's about people using Ireland as a location to tap into Europe and globally.
"It's about us creating fantastic future roles for people coming out of university as they can access this wealth of information that is already being built up."
With the acquisition of telecom firm Telecity, Equinix already operates four data centres across west Dublin, which range in size and capacity.
The Californian internet infrastructure giant has recently applied for planning permission to build an additional three data centres at a site in Blanchardstown.
"It’s a significant development in comparison to what we already have in the Irish market. It’s a big endorsement for the business over here, not just in an Irish context but in a wider European context," said Mortell.
"The idea is that you’re putting in place something that’s going to give you five years growth capacity. And that growth gets Dublin noticed."
As a retail provider, Equinix provides its services across multiple verticals including financial services, pharmaceuticals, digital media content, gaming - "anything from 500kW of power capacity down".
Around 80pc of the company's revenue is foreign direct investment, the majority of which is coming from the US. Businesses are looking for a host partner in Dublin and Ireland to connect with the European - and wider - market.
On a domestic level, the expansion of the company's Internet Exchange (IX) service here allows Irish firms interconnect with their own customers and partners across their digital supply chain, tapping into an internet exchange architecture which spans more than 25 markets.
"In terms of digital transformation, we’re seeing a shift into how Irish enterprises are looking for access to that ecosystem. This includes looking for scalability, speed, redundancy, security, latency. Companies are asking how to connect properly and effectively to improve their business," said Mortell.
Likening data to oil, which has become a regularly used analogy, is a rather lazy comparison. There are similar parallels, of course, but the value of this commodity is infinite and will become more useful the more it's dissected and deciphered (and used again).
"What’s being created is massive amounts of data. Whether it’s from IoT or devices, from enterprises or clients, or from the interconnection piece, there are huge volumes of data.
"But what is actually going on with that data, what intelligence is that giving, how is that delivering value to the businesses, who's providing those services, who's analysing to find out what market to be in, how to be working clever, that's where there's huge value. Data is a valuable resource but if you're not analysing, what's the point?"
Some of the clients that seek Equinix' services require detailed and on-going guidance throughout their digital transformation journey, while others may provide their own infrastructure or even bring their own consultants to the table. According to Mortell, each service for each different client is bespoke.
"We’ll slot in to whatever part of the chain you want us to. We don’t go into the application layer but it’s probably the stack just below that; comms, hardware, infrastructure, monitoring, management."
Increasing numbers of Irish companies, regardless of size, are turning to the cloud to enable working practices such as remote working and Internet of Things (IoT) functionality. But are we keeping up with our European peers?
"Domestically we’ve always had an issue around broadband but I don't think we're falling behind. Certainly for any of our clients who get in here and are investing, they are very comfortable with the skill sets and the expertise.
"What I would say is that we can’t fall short on continuing to invest in infrastructure or attracting in the right type of customers or clients to the country. We need to keep our RnD programme going with the IDA, which is very strong; and rolling out broadband nationwide is just a project that will have to continue."
Policymakers are starting to fret about the rise of ever-more advanced machines and artificial intelligence (AI), particularly the threat to the livelihoods of millions of workers.
But Mortell believes that the advancements in technology are actually an opportunity for us to position ourselves more wisely, and earlier.
"The universities and second levels in Ireland need to align themselves more with what is coming down the track as regards innovation, software, business analytics, etc.
"We do a lot but we need to make sure that we are at the high end all the time. We need to make sure we have students coming out who are qualified for those roles, roles that may not even exist yet."
Equinix is advising Irish companies on how to digitally transform their business to remain competitive at a free event on Thursday, June 28 in Quay 14, Dublin 1.