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Marseille: Europe’s networking gateway to Africa

The city of Marseille in southern France is fast becoming a hub for datacentre and network operators who want low latency connections to Africa.

Along with the role it played in the two French Connection films, the port city of Marseille in southern France is also renowned for being a traditional landing site for eight submarine cables that connect Europe with Africa, the Middle East and Asia. As a result, it has long served as a transit and caching location for network providers and cable operators.

In the last two years, a growing number of connectivity providers, content delivery networks (CDNs), social media and cloud services firms have set up home there, because the submarine cables provide them with low latency connections to the African continent.

Fabrice Coquio, president of datacentre company Interxion France, says: “Marseille is a strategic location. It has always been a transit location from Africa back to Paris.

“They say that Marseille is not just a transit city but also a content city. It’s becoming a new gateway. It’s a complete revolution in how to organise traffic between Africa and Europe."

Interxion already operates seven datacentres in Paris, but Coquio said its partners pushed it to set up another in Marseille.

The company therefore bought MRS1 from French telecoms operator SFR last year, and is now looking for a second location in the region.

Interxion’s overseas investments

Interxion is investing €45m in its Marseille datacentre, although Coquio said the company is in the early stages of developing its strategy.

Read more about European datacentres

In just six months, the company has gathered together more than 70 connectivity players, including global and regional capacity providers, and network players including ISPs, submarine cable systems, local fibre routes, CDNs and internet exchange points (IXPs).

One of the IXPs is France-IX, which operates as a neutral peering company with the goal of providing the best service at the best price.

The company was founded in response to a 2009 survey of French operators that uncovered strong demand for a federated internet exchange in the country. Its founding members are Akamai, Jaguar Network, Neo Telecoms (later Zayo France), Interxion, Google and Bouygues Telecom.

“When we launched France-IX in Paris in 2010, we had to fix a chaotic situation - the French networks community was split into just under 10 internet exchange points and the international community had decided to exclude France from its interconnection plans, even though this country was, and still is, highly attractive in terms of connectivity,” says Franck Simon, managing director at France-IX.

France-IX now has nine points of presence (PoPs) in and around Paris, and will soon have two in Marseille. The first was established in the MRS1 centre in 2012, when it was still owned by SFR. The second will open this summer in a datacentre owned by Jaguar Network.

The IXP said the expansion was made possible by the ongoing growth of its first Marseille PoP. Crucially, it also meets the high resiliency requirements of its existing members, while catering to the need for increased capacity from new users looking to benefit from peering in Marseille.

“We always believed in the success of Marseille and we have been working on building an international peering community in this city since 2012. The results of our efforts are now being realised and Marseille is even attracting interest from other internet exchange points,” says Simon.

“We will continue to do all we can to avoid the community becoming split - the power is in the community.”

Making the most of Marseille

Like Interxion, France-IX believes the time is now ripe to exploit the prime location of Marseille further as a gateway between Europe and Africa, the Middle East and Asia (EMEA). “Marseille helps us to reach Africa better,” Simon says.

France-IX has so far interconnected over 20 networks through its first Marseille-based PoP, and says the community consists primarily of French and international CDNs along with Middle-Eastern and African operators who collect the content.

At its second PoP, the IXP plans to replicate the equipment deployment that it has at the Interxion MRS1 datacentre. “These switches and routers can connect in excess of 60 optical ports. We estimate that at least a dozen additional members are likely to become connected before the end of 2015,” says Simon.

Jaguar Network, the datacentre operator and cloud computing firm, also foresees this upward trajectory continuing.

“We’re seeing a rise in demand from the EMEA region, which confirms the international status of Marseille. By joining forces, we are confident that the number of peers will double in 2016,” says president Kévin Polizzi.

For France-IX, connecting the CDNs represented the first step, and includes companies such as Google, Akamai, Microsoft and Amazon. The next was to connect African operators, with Oranlink the first to sign up in December 2014. Once this deal was struck, “the traffic jumped,” says Simon.

OranLink operates a tier-2 internet PoP in Marseille – including sites at both the Interxion and Jaguar Network datacentres – on behalf of Algerie Telecom.

From its PoP in Marseilles, OranLink also offers operators and ISPs leased circuits (SDH) to Algeria. Furthermore, the company will operate the planned Orval submarine cable that will link the cities of Oran in Algeria with Valencia in Spain.

France-IX is now looking for more players, and believes big companies are where the future lies. “This will be the future of the IXP,” says Simon, noting that large companies have a growing need for cloud-based services and can save on IP transit costs by connecting to the IXP.

“This has been the trend of the last two years and I think there will be huge growth here. There are thousands of them and they are now representing huge amounts of traffic,” Simon says. “It’s creating new opportunities.”

This was last published in May 2015

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