An Interview with Fabrice Coquio, Managing Director, Interxion France

Editor’s Note: We have often talked in SubCableWorld about the importance of trade routes when understanding the geography of the global submarine cable network.  Today, there is nothing new about Marseille being at the crossroads of Mediterranean trade.  It has been that ways since the days of Ancient Greece and Rome.  But today, everything has changed, the Internet defines new trade routes and the pace of change is so much faster than it has been at any time throughout human history.  Everything has changed not just since ancient times, but within the last four years, making Marseille a key hub for Internet traffic, data center services and submarine cable landings. 

Interxion, an industry leader in the European data center market, moved into Marseille in 2014.  That was the same year that SubCableWorld noted the dramatic shift in market forces that changed the submarine cable market, creating the conditions we see today.  This is not a coincidence. 

SCW recently had the pleasure to speak with Interxion France’s Managing Director Fabrice Coquio about his company’s activities in Marseille and the market conditions in the Mediterranean region.  His words, “Nothing is new, but everything has changed,” could not be truer.  The complete interview is below.

Fabrice Coquio: For the last 20 years, Interxion has been a major player in the data center industry.  We design, build and operate 24/7 key data centers throughout Europe.  We are a pure European player and a leader in that respect. 

In France, we have been operating for 19 years in Paris, which concentrates about 80% of the telecom and IT investment in the country, but four years ago, we made a major investment in Marseille.  Rather than build there, we decided to buy a major data center and carrier hotel.  We bought this building from SFR, which is the second largest carrier in France. 

We did this because we had customers making major investments in Marseille.  By acquiring the building, which is now called MRS1, we were able to supply new space and new technology, but this time with the sophistication of Interxion in terms of redundancy, quality of service and power density, which was not the case before in that building.  So we invested 48 million euros in MRS1 since then to bring it up to the standards of Interxion in terms of security and power density. 

MRS1 is located in the center of Marseille.  In most cases nowadays, data centers are located in the suburbs where they can be expanded.  But MRS1 was built right in the center of the city and has no room for expansion.  We had customers looking for more space and dual site configuration, so we decided to invest in a second data center located about four kilometers distance from MRS1 in the harbor of Marseille. 

Two years ago, we started the buildout of this new facility, called MRS2.  We completed the first phase of MRS2 in May of this year and currently we are building out the rest of the facility to be able to deliver more than 4,400 square meters in total by next July. 

Most recently, we started the construction of a huge facility called MRS3, which is a former submarine base built by the German military at the end of the Second World War and that we are transforming into a data center.  That is quite an adventure. 

Interxion MRS3 1

So to build out these facilities, we will have invested more than 260 million euros in Marseille to deliver close to 17,000+ square meters of data center space.  This is quite a significant move that we have made in a very short space of time.  There is one figure that stands out.  The growth that we normally see in Europe for data center services is between 30%-40% per year.  In Marseille, we have experienced a growth of 80% per year.  This is why some are saying that Marseille may be the hottest market in Europe for data center services.

As we always do in all our campuses, we have installed our own capacities of massive dark fiber pairs between our MRS1 and MRS2 facilities.  And we will connect MRS3 in the same way.  This means that the three data centers will be essentially the same facility.  So if a customer is, for example, in MRS2 and a submarine cable comes into MRS1, you have the same solutions and the same services that you would if you were in MRS1. 

With regards to growing traffic demand in the Mediterranean region, I like to say, “Nothing is new, but everything has changed.”  Marseille has always been a geographic center of a world that is ever-changing.  Marseille’s position before the arrival of Interxion was already a city where submarine cables where landing.  So that is nothing new.  And the reason why they are landing in Marseille -- these cables that are coming from India, from Asia, from Africa – is that it is the shortest route to the concentration of IT in Europe, represented by Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris. 

Before 2014, Interxion had no presence in Marseille.  Why?  Because Marseille was what we call a “transit” city.  When the cable landed there, you put two or three racks for connectivity to provide the backhaul to Frankfurt or London or Paris or Amsterdam.  And that was it.  So the geographic importance of Marseille is nothing new. 

But everything has changed.  First, there is the huge appetite for Internet content from Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and Africa.  If you are in India or Singapore and you want to reach English-language content, about 80% of which is produced in the US and UK, the easiest way to get it is to connect to Marseille.  For example, one of our customers is Indian mobile phone operator Jio which has over 380 million customers.  So imagine what kind of traffic that represents when you have to move news, entertainment and other content from the United States. 

That is the first point as to why the market in Marseille has taken off in the last three or four years.  With all the submarine cables that currently come into MRS1 and the new cables that will land in Marseille in the next few years, we will be able to access 43 countries directly.  This makes Marseille the gateway for digital content; whether you are talking about financial services content, cloud services content, gaming content, digital media content. 

Second, new submarine cables provide the opportunity for much more capacity at a much lower cost. This makes it possible for customers to have their platform in Marseille and not have to replicate that platform inland. 

A third advantage is related to latency reduction based on new technology.  In the last two or three years, the latency between Singapore and Marseille has basically been halved, from about 235ms to 136ms.  This means that new services can be distributed on different submarine cables and offer a greater customer experience in terms of what is available in gaming or content distribution, for example. 

Marseille in the past four years has become a content city.  It is a place that manufactures content, aggregates content and distributes content.  This means that you don’t need a few meters of racks.  You need thousands and thousands of square meters of data center space. 

At the end of the day, the rule to decide where you want to put a data center is like the three rules of real estate: “location, location and location.”  It is much easier to have a clean, green new building than refurbishing a building like a former submarine station, which was obviously not designed to be a data center.  But we picked that building for two basic reasons.  One, it is exactly where it needed to be – on the coast but not far away from MRS1.  Two, it is where we could get the necessary power from the national grid, because we need more than 1 gigawatt of capacity.  And third, the building is at the shore where we could offer a new solution for landing submarine cables that will be coming into Marseille in the coming years.  These cables can come directly into the data center facility, avoiding some of the costs of landing elsewhere having the backhaul and other expenses just to get to the data center.  We can offer one-stop shopping. 

So knowing it was at a perfect location, we asked ourselves, “How can we use that incredible building?”  It is 250 meters in length with 5,5 meters of concrete on the roof to protect from bombing in the Second World War.  Can we accommodate that?  Actually “yes.”  Inside it was kind of a submarine garage.  You have big cells that are similar to each other, protected by deep walls and no problem for us to accommodate what we do.  We split the space into two parts, one where we put the power equipment and the second where we put the IT room.  This room is particularly well designed to accommodate the computers and their demand for power.  It is a perfect fit. 

Interxion MRS3 2

Interxion has taken a different approach with regards to MRS2 and MRS3.  MRS2 is more dedicated to the edge node, network node and connectivity node; while MRS3 is the perfect fit for a large digital media and content node. 

In September at the Submarine Networks World event, I presented a new project that Interxion is working on.  We are working with the local authorities as well as the Harbor of Marseille and the Maritime authorities for permission for a pre-equipped and pre-authorized landing station for submarine cables.  Work has started and the pre-equipping will be completed during the second quarter of 2019.  This will make it much easier for submarine cable consortia or private cable developers to land their cables.  We have already had inquiries about four new submarine cables that plan to land in Marseille. 

The future of Interxion in Marseille is definitely in the harbor area where not only is there space and structure but also where we can connect to all of the submarine cables that will land in Marseille in the coming years.  With demand for services growing and new cables coming into the city, Marseille will continue to be a vital hub for the region.