Marseille is the gateway to the East

07 May 2018 | James Pearce

Interxion is about to go live with its second data centre facility in Marseille, with plans to add a third in motion, and Colt is already announced as a key partner. James Pearce spoke to Interxion’s Mike Hollands and Colt’s Andrew Edison about why companies are investing in Marseille

The city of Marseille, the second largest city in France, was once one of the most important trading cities in Europe for the ancient Greeks and Romans. Now, as the largest port for commerce, freight and cruise ships in France, it is also one of the key Mediterranean hubs for data.

Typically, when talking about the geography of the internet, the key European hotspots have been Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, and Paris – known as FLAP. But an explosion in demand for data in Africa, the Middle East and Asia and the deployment of new subsea cable systems has opened the door for Marseille to become a new European hub.

The predicted growth of data to he Middle East, Africa and Asia is eye-catching. The Cisco Visual Networking Index estimates that internet traffic in the Middle East and Africa is set to grow six-fold by 2020 to 10.9 exabytes per month. Traffic in Asia Pacific is forecast to grow three-fold to 67.8 exabytes per month over the same period. That, according to Interxion’s Mike Hollands, is why the data centre company is investing heavily into the region. He explains: "Marseille is becoming now a key gateway for traffic." That is why, he adds, Interxion is launching its second and third data centres in the city.

If we rewind back to 2014, Interxion made its first move into the city through an acquisition. It snapped up the SFR Netcenter data centre, which ultimately became Interxion MRS1, for a total of around €45 million, of which €20m million was associated with the purchase of the freehold land and buildings.

Connectivity

Mike Hollands 300

At the time, MRS1 served as a transit and caching node for around 60 network providers but now the 6,500 sq m space serves around 135 networks and 13 subsea cable systems. There were just eight connected at the time of the acquisition.

This explosion in connectivity options, along with the growing onward demand coming out of Europe, was

 a key component to Interxion’s investment plans. These include a new 4,500 sq m facility – called MRS2 – which is being built around 4km away from MRS1, with the first phase due to go live in June. Then there are the plans for MRS3, which is going to be built next to MRS2. Hollands adds: "We’ve already got part of the space ready and the first major space becomes ready on 1 June. The original data centre is around 6,500 sq m but this one is about 4,500 sq m."

So why build more in the same location? It "reflects the first major, diverse location in Marseille away from where our existing MRS1 data centre is located," he replies. "In the past all of the traffic from the 13 submarine cable systems that land in Marseille and from the 135 networks present in the city were based in MRS1 and there has been a demand from cloud and content providers that are arriving there for more diversity in the city. 

"So rather than just MRS1 being the core focus of this traffic, a diverse location to add to resilience but also to ensure there is a second site – so it doesn’t just become a satellite of the first site. So traffic can exit the second data centre and go straight to the major cities in Europe without having to go via MRS1."

Diversity of routes

That diversity of routes is being demanded by Interxion’s partner base, both new and old, as they see more and more data coming into and out of Marseille. With more data and more connection comes greater risk of a single point of failure – something no operator or data centre provider would want.

If you don’t believe what impact this could have, consider this from Interxion’s director marketing and strategy for connectivity Michael Rabinowitz in an article he wrote for Capacity in March. The knock-on commercial effects, he says, of major outages "can be catastrophic for both providers and business customers." In it, he outlined five of the biggest outages, such as the AWS outage in 2017 or the impact of the DDoS attack on Dyn in 2016.

Having diversity can help allay the impact of such failures on a single point, and customers recognise the need for alternative routes in the same location, says Hollands. He points to subsea cable AAE-1 as an example.

"What we have in the submarine cable system AAE-1 is for the first time a system that asked for two PoPs in Marseille – half in MRS-1 and half of the traffic lands in MRS-2," Hollands explains. "The reason for that is because the volume of traffic that was passing through MRS-1 was becoming so large it would be a concern for any network planner that it was a single point of failure that was too big to fail.

And so, MRS2 was built, with capex of around €76 million. "By having invested in a second data centre and with other networks coming to that location and providing diverse routes out of Marseille, we have together provided a solution for the likes of AAE-1 – a solution that really removes that horrible single point of failure situation that they were looking to avoid."

The carrier community has responded too, with Colt Technology Services becoming one of the first carriers to announce a point of presence in MRS2. This accompanies the carrier’s existing PoP in MRS1 and diversity was a key part of Colt’s thinking, says VP of wholesale Andrew Edison.

He adds: "We have three core areas of focus: helping other operators, carriers and service providers meet their own internal needs and those of their end customers; digital transformation services through our high bandwidth optical network – the IQ Network; on helping companies become more agile and to boost their customer experience through software-defined networking.

"Marseille fits into this picture across three points. It is important from a connectivity standpoint. We’d already invested into MRS-1 in 2016, and we’ve seen that Marseille is an important hub to provide connectivity into and out of the European region. There are around 130 connectivity partners who come into MRS-1 and that makes it a very important strategic opportunity for us," says Edison.

High bandwidth

He adds: "We want to support the demand on that traffic coming in. We’ve seen an explosive growth in internet demand and internet traffic. That internet traffic is primarily trying to get to the data, content and applications which are housed in Europe. Out of Marseille we bring our high bandwidth optical network and then we can pull that traffic to all the key peering points and data centres across Europe."

Though London-based Colt is traditionally seen as a European operator, it has recently invested in expanding its presence in Asia – notably in Singapore and Hong Kong – and the Americas. But it is the former of these areas that make investing in the additional PoP in Marseille even more important, Edison tells me. "What has been driving our growth in other areas is the need to support our European base of customers and this deep presence we have in Europe," he says.

"We’re seeing that customer demand expand outside of Europe but what they want is the same level of experience, consistency continuity, which we are looking to replicate as we build out. Our core market is here in Europe and that’s where our density of customer activity is – we’re looking to support their own end connections into the market," he adds.

Single point of failure

"Both on the wholesale side and in the retail business, the submarine operators and other service providers we’re dealing with really want to have a second route. They are looking for diversity, security, flexibility and, if we can show there isn’t a single point of failure in the Marseille hub, that gives them more comfort around doing business with us and the service levels they can offer back to their own end user customers. We see increasing demand for data and traffic and our customers are looking to serve that demand over multiple links rather than one single link."

Colt is a key partner for Interxion, Hollands explains, as it has the highest number of cross connects with other operators in Interxion data centres with a presence in 42 of its sites. "This has led to Colt being arguably the most popular network with customers we serve in our data centre," he adds.

For Interxion – the lead data centre partner at the upcoming Subsea Connect EMEA event, being held in Marseille in July – the likes of Colt is vital to its own outward plans.

Hollands explains: "For us to deliver a data centre and diverse location is only part of our story. Colt is providing another part – a modern network with diverse routes out of Marseille and providing services that are very popular with the clients that we serve."

Topics: Interxion, Colt, Marseille, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Mike Hollands, Andrew Edison, data centres