Bulk: The enabler of the Nordics

24 July 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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With an abundance of renewable energy, favourable regulatory conditions and prime location to other continents, Jon Gravråk speaks to Natalie Bannerman about why the Nordics is becoming a prime location for subsea cable infrastructure.

The global market is finally beginning to realise the potential of the Nordics. A region with favourable regulation, talent and resources as well as its position as gateway between the US and other parts of Europe mean that many are just waking up to the opportunity.

One such company that has been active in the region for over 12 years is Bulk Infrastructure, a leading provider of sustainable digital infrastructure in the Nordics. A champion of the region, Bulk actively works to bring more data processing and traffic to the Nordics.

“We want to see data processing coming to the Nordics and we want to be an enabler for making that happen,” says Jon Gravråk, CEO, Bulk Infrastructure.

As far as Gravråk and the rest of the Bulk team are concerned the benefits of bringing more traffic to and through the area, are too good to ignore.

“We believe the Nordic region is optimally geographically positioned,” adds Gravråk. Here, we have short distances to Europe and other countries, abundant renewable hydropower supply and the lowest electricity prices in Europe. But the most important thing is the regions connectivity, redundancy and resilience. I believe all these things together, topped with political stability and low temperature is reasons why the Nordics is chosen.”

One of the most recent announcements from the company is that it struck a deal with AWS to use Bulk’s share of the HAVFRUE cable and data centre facilities; a huge win for the Nordic region.

“Overall, this agreement is a great proof of concept for Nordic connectivity,” explains Gravråk. “Then for Bulk of course it’s a huge learning opportunity working with a global content player in this space, which AWS is. For Bulk its part of putting our company on the map, to be seen as the enabler of the Nordics – this is our aspiration. Finally, it kick-starts our operations at our data centre campus in Kristiansand, N01 Campus. In sum, this deal is testament to what we have been doing for years and we are clearly going in the right direction.”

Speaking of data centres, in March 2019, the company broke ground for a new data centre in Esbjerg, Denmark, its first site outside of Norway.

“It’s really a very natural extension of our business, explains Gravråk. “There was a special reason for us to launch a data centre in Esbjerg, Denmark. This place has a unique location for topography. It’s a location where at least 4 new international subsea fibre systems will land. This includes HAVFRUE (US-IRE-DK-NO), Cobra (that connects to Amsterdam), Skagerrak 4 (Denmark and Norway) and DANICE (Denmark and Iceland).”

There’s no doubt that the relationship between OTTs and telcos have changed since their entry to the market – a factor driven by a shift in subsea fibre systems. Like the rest of us explains Gravråk. Is curious to see how telco players plan to play a role in the global digital infrastructure going forward.

“Obviously, the growth in traffic is exponential and a big part of that is driven by the OTT`s. So unlike before where you would perhaps have a more granular type of demand, you see a much more consolidated demand from the OTTs and so it is natural for them to become owners and take more ownership of what’s going on,” he says.

Subsea providers are often left on the fringes of the 5G conversation with discussion mostly taking place in the mobile space. However, 5G and other emerging technologies will drive the need for more subsea infrastructure, according to Gravråk.

“5G and other network technologies like AI, Machine learning, autonomous vehicles and all those technology trends, they all have one thing in common, they generate a lot more data and they make the real-time aspects of that data even more important,” he says.

“What that means for subsea fibre systems is that we need to build out and support those systems because they too will need to grow.”

According to Openwave Mobility’s Mobile Video Industry Council (MOVIC) Livecast back in April, Operators believe that cloud gaming could represent 25% to 50% of 5G data traffic by 2022, based on the rapid progression of cloud gaming services in recent months.

Questioning Gravråk as to whether this gaming trend is having any impact on the infrastructure market from Bulk’s perspective he said: “I don’t think gaming as a single consumer application influences our infrastructure in the same way as for example the cloud players. Bulk focuses on the big A to B highways for data transportation.

"Gaming is probably more relevant when looking at the last mile and metro networks, something we are not into.” Speaking of A to B connectivity, Gravråk like many subsea players is in favour of data centre to data centre connections and is a trend Bulk continues to follow.

“We see that getting the cable all the way into the data centre happens because more equipment relating to the cable itself benefits from data centre standards regarding infrastructure, accessibility, etc,” he says. “Building these cables moving forward to the data centre, there will be more opportunities of fully leveraging the traffic exchange opportunities of the subsea fibre systems.”

As a true full infrastructure provider Bulk has a number of data centre assets including its hyperscale data park, N01 Campus in the south most part of Norway, its Oslo Internet Exchange is the largest data centre location in downtown Oslo and of course the aforementioned DK01 Campus, in Esbjerg, southwest Denmark.

As such the evolution and continued adoption of the cloud is driving growing data consumption.

“It’s obvious to us that these cloud players are enabling a lot of the growth within data processing altogether. I think they are doing it in a fascinating way, they are providing services in a completely different way. It’s an accelerating growth and they facilitate digital transformation.”

From Bulk’s perspective a key part of their business is to create the infrastructure for those players and meet any needs they may have.

“We need to give them as good infrastructure as they need – we need to do it in the shortest timeframe in the most efficient way – that’s the way we compete and earn the right to be their partner,” he adds.

Unlike the rest of the industry, Gravråk isn’t as taken in by the hype of the edge because as far as he’s concerned it have yet to be clearly defined and varies depending on the use case.

“There may be some instances where data processing needs to happen close to the end user or closer to where the data originates from. It all depends on the different use cases and their requirements in terms of latency etc. But at the same time, you’ll see needs for bigger engine use, to serve the big data processing with perhaps less latency sensitivity.”

Though Gravråk is still on the fence with regard to the edge and what it will look, in terms of Bulk’s network infrastructure, terrestrially speaking, he says they are thinking about it and exploring opportunities in the space around metro, city centres etc.

The roadmap for Bulk Infrastructure across its various sectors remains the same, to become the enabler of the Nordics “meaning that we will continue to build and try to be effective with our time to market as a data centre player," adds Gravråk.

"We also want to steadily grow and increase our partnerships with anchor tenants,” he says.

As for subsea fibre part of the business, the company says it will continue to make strategic investments into new systems that align with making the Nordics attractive for data processing.

“We are constantly looking for new opportunities to improve Nordic connectivity with the rest of the world, and we prefer doing this with other players that see large growth opportunity in the region,” says Gravråk.

Connecting the Nordics

Nigel Bayliff, CEO of Aqua Comms; Jon Gravråk, CEO of Bulk Infrastructure; Erling Aronsveen, CEO of Celtic Norse and Geir Holmer, CEO, Skagenfiber, joined Capacity for a webinar about connecting the Nordics and the work these companies are doing in the region.

According to Bayliff, the OTTs are driven towards renewables/energy-efficient locations making the Nordics a very attractive location for investment. The growth of data transmission is continuing at a CAGR of 41%, in addition to the rise of independent infrastructure partners in the space. He added that within a few years the existing cables across the Atlantic will be ‘inefficient to light and expensive to operate, burdened by legacy’ – as such Aqua Comms is focussed in the Northern Atlantic, creating a dual-routing capability from key strategic locations – Dublin, London and Denmark.

One of the newer systems due to be RSF is Celtic Norse, a 2,000km cable linking the city of Øysanden, in Melhus municipality in Norway, just south of the city of Trondheim and Killala Bay, County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland. According to Aronsveen the system has already has a desktop study completed as it well on its way, with RFI out to 5 vendors (responses due back in June 2019) and he confirms that they are actively seeking anchor their first tenants.

As for Holmer, over at Skagenfiber the team pushes ahead with the development of its Skagenfiber East and Skagenfiber West cable systems between Norway and central Europe. The system has garnered strong public support from a number of public bodies including Ministry of Transport & Communication, the Armed Forces, ICT Norway and Highways Agency. With an RFS of Q3 2020, he says they are well underway with its Installation vendor and cable manufacturer selection process, as well as sales.

View this executive interview as a digital page in the June/July edition of Capacity magazine and see what other great articles you may have missed out on!