A few days ago Microsoft announced the largest investment in its history in Italy, namely the realization of the Datacenter Region. It is a $ 1,5 billion investment with a support business plan to accompany the new services in cloud with resources for skills, advanced technologies and sustainability.
This did not go unnoticed. To learn more we interviewed Carlo Mauceli, Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft Italy.
What is the project?
The announcement that Microsoft has decided to open a new Data Center Region took us almost by surprise, although the preparatory work done gave us excellent chances. The news and the echo that it had surprised us pleasantly. Now we know for sure that expectations, both in the company and throughout Italy, are also high.
The investment of 1,5 billion dollars is for the creation of a "Data Center Region" and to manage all that is needed to help the country in digital growth. We are convinced that the opening of the Data Center will bring much to Italy, both in terms of direct investments but above all of induced and knowledge development. We need to give some technological details to explain what we are talking about because the architecture on which Microsoft's Datacenters are based has no equal in any other reality, be it private or public.
Information is available at this link.
The three basic concepts are as follows:
Areas or Region
An area is a set of data centers distributed within a perimeter defined by latency and connected via a dedicated low latency regional network.
With more global areas than any other cloud service provider, Azure offers customers the flexibility to deploy applications where needed. Azure is generally available in 58 areas around the world, to which Poland, New Zealand and Italy must be added.
A geographic area is typically represented by a specific territory, which generally includes two or more areas and which meets the data residence and compliance requirements.
Geographical areas allow customers with specific needs, which may be regulatory or technological, to maintain the so-called Data Residency and use of applications with very low latency. The geographical areas guarantee high reliability, Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity and Geo Replication.
Availability Zones are physically separated locations within an Azure region or area. Each availability zone consists of one or more data centers equipped with independent systems for energy, cooling and the network.
Availability Zones allow customers to run crucial applications with high availability and low latency replication.
What is a Data Center Region and how could it help the growth of digitization?
A Data Center Region is a set of data centers for the provision of services, installed in a specific geographical area, in our case in Italy.
It is therefore a certain number of data centers distributed throughout the territory, designed and built to guarantee an SLA (service level) of 99,99999%, that is, with very high resilience values. Let's say that if in the standard classification of data centers the maximum level is four, a Data Center Region is designed to reach a level 5!
Each individual data center is totally independent of the others in terms of protection and power structures and is ready to make up for any shortcomings in one of the area's data centers.
Furthermore, what should not be underestimated, the Microsoft strategy is to have a low environmental impact, trying to exploit the opportunities of the territory both to power and to cool the data centers as part of the plan that we launched to become "carbon negative" within the 2050.
Definitely a complex initiative. Engineer Mauceli, what are the reasons that led Microsoft to make this investment? Why was Italy chosen?
The reasons behind a similar choice are many, surely there is the will to improve the services rendered to Italian companies, then the presence of a Data Center Region is a facilitator of the innovation of digitization processes.
We must not forget that Italy is a complex country in which the safety and privacy regulations are declined, interpreted and implemented in such a way as to satisfy its own mainly national, as well as international, needs, the Data Center Region , on the national territory, will allow to adhere even better to the national policies, for example regarding the custody of sensitive data on the territory.
This means that the data center in Italy also has a national value and that Microsoft believes in Italy's digital potential, probably until now, unexpressed.
And what about complexity? Are you going to do everything yourself or will you get help?
The project is ambitious and complex from many points of view but in Europe there are other Data Center Regions for which we do not start from scratch.
Since managing the company, our CEO Satya Nadella has inaugurated a new course. The company is now increasingly close to the outside world, looking for partnerships with those who can bring special knowledge in a neighboring field.
This project also claims to involve universities and businesses that will have something constructive to bring to the project in the digital development process.
We are Italian and by definition brilliant in many fields, but often we get lost in diatribes and do not look at a project as a whole. To achieve an ambitious goal you need to be brilliant but also overcome internal rivalries and be able to make a system.
The Data Center Region wants to be an opportunity for Italy to overcome these difficulties and make the country grow from a digitalization point of view. It is unacceptable that Italy is in fourth place for digital skills, as expressed by the DESI index1. A country like ours deserves much more and, since in a globalized world, it is very difficult to emerge on our own, the idea is precisely to exploit this opportunity to forge alliances and relationships between public and private.
We are sure we can do it and the recent pandemic crisis has worked as a stimulus to make Italy grow exactly in this sense. In a few months, choices were made that in ten years have always found enormous obstacles, just look at what has happened in the field of teleworking or distance learning.
On what time frame is the project developed?
I still do not have exact data, surely it is a multi-year project, which will have to involve many partners, institutional and private, I certainly think of universities that will have to help us in some way in preparing the children who will come to work with us or who want to develop experiences based on technologies made available. We will certainly need hardware and software engineers and technicians, but not only.
Skilled managers in the field of risk management, IT security and experts in Italian legislation will also be needed. So universities will be one of our privileged partners. However, as I said, we are open to anyone who has a clear goal.
We must not forget that our technology is a means of making businesses and people achieve their goals and we are all convinced that multidisciplinarity is an added value, this is to say that the Data Center Region, once again, will act as an accelerator in all the fields in which all-Italian creativity and genius can be exploited.
I can add that if we use estimates made by the Politecnico di Milano School of Management, also from the experiences of the creation of the other districts, for the next five years there will be an induced of about 10.000 jobs from the induced, from direct hires to partners to all levels, up to companies that can carry out new projects on our platform.
What about software research and development?
As I mentioned earlier, the Data Center Region is an enabling platform, so the limit is the imagination of Italians and the propensity for digital transformation of companies. If there are start-ups or companies that want to develop software or specific technological solutions in any field, we will help them by making available the potential of the platform. Same thing goes for Artificial Intelligence or other relatively new technology sectors. Once again, the limit will not be Microsoft but, possibly, the lack of imagination, but I don't think this is the case for Italians.
I like to say that Microsoft is an enabler, the cloud is a platform available to be developed and to give rise to projects and solutions.
Do you really think that the Italian ruling class is ready for this leap? We have often mentioned the lack of awareness in the digital sector and in particular in the cybersecurity sector due to the unpreparedness of managers and the low risk appetite ...
I am confident. In recent years we have seen many companies that have been able to change, with some we have entered into partnerships while with others, we are working together to do it, with others, perhaps, there will be the possibility of doing it in the near future.
The world is changing, Italy is moving towards the future. Other large industries, our direct competitors in some cases, have also noticed and have made our own choice, investing in the Bel Paese, to help it grow and grow together.
Alessandro Rugolo, Giorgio Giacinto, Danilo Mancinone
1 DESI (Index of digitization of the economy and society) is the tool through which the European Commission has monitored the digital competitiveness of the Member States since 2015. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/desi