By Barrett Baker
Virginia Beach has been known primarily as a vacation destination since it was incorporated as a city in 1952. Based on some projects that are currently underway, the city is now going to have to share that moniker with a new title: The Silicone Valley of the East Coast.
“Virginia Beach is well positioned to be the new East Coast digital gateway as a result of two transatlantic subsea cables that will bring immediate and long-term economic benefits,” says Warren Harris, Economic Development Director for the City of Virginia Beach. “The new MAREA transatlantic subsea cable stretching from Bilbao, Spain to Virginia Beach is a result of the partnership between Microsoft, Facebook and Telxius (a subsidiary of Telefonica, a Spanish multinational broadband and telecommunications provider with operations in Europe, Asia and North, Central and South America). This investment of over $170 million will generate $1.5 million in economic impact and create high-paying jobs in the community. The project is scheduled to come on line in late 2017. Telxius is planning the other transatlantic subsea cable called BRUSA, which will connect Virginia Beach with Brazil. With an investment equal to what the MAREA is bringing, it is expected to be operational by 2018. We are looking to establish Virginia Beach as the hub for the next generation of data centers and the perfect location for financial services, trading companies and big data users like biomedical research firms.”
In addition to these, a Dutch company called NxtVn is looking to invest in a third transatlantic high-speed data cable called Midgardsormen that will connect Virginia Beach with a data center in Eemshaven, Netherlands. The company is looking to build a data center in Virginia Beach that is expected to attract myriad businesses looking to take advantage of the exceptional broadband the new cables will provide.
Why Virginia Beach? When Benjamin Davenport ran for Virginia Beach City Council in 2014, his entire platform was based on bringing an ultra-highspeed broadband network to Virginia Beach and ultimately to all of Coastal Virginia. After getting elected to the City Council, Virginia Beach Mayor William Sessoms, Jr., asked Davenport if he would start and chair the Virginia Beach Broadband Taskforce. He organized a team of local Chief Information Officers and other leading Information Technology professionals to discuss a strategy to bring an ultra-highspeed broadband platform to Virginia Beach. With CIOs representing all Coastal Virginia cities involved, this may be the first initiative to bring the region together.
“I was very interested in what was happening with the first Google cities (where Google Fiber provides an Internet connection speed of up to one gigabit per second for both download and upload, which is roughly 100 times faster access that what most Americans have right now) like Kansas City,” says Davenport. “So my initial idea was to become a Google City. But once the taskforce went through the white boarding session, a lot more bigger ideas started to develop.”
One idea was to become a Tier One site, which is essentially where all of the Tier Two providers—like Cox Communications, Verizon and various Internet Service Providers get their Internet. So the economic development team compiled marketing materials and sent a group to a tech conference in San Francisco to stir up some interest and get Virginia Beach’s name out there.
As luck would have it, the team met a gentleman from London with a company called Level 3 Communications, a huge telecommunications provider in the United Kingdom. He stopped in Virginia Beach on his way back from the conference to London to see what was happening with the broadband initiative.
It turns out he was essentially scouting for Telefónica and Facebook to land the MAREA transatlantic cable. After understanding how serious Virginia Beach was, he brought his team to Coastal Virginia to do a feasibility study on what it would take to bring an oceanic cable here. The result of that study convinced Microsoft and Facebook that this was the right landing site for the MAREA cable.
“It was one of those cases of being in the right place at the right time and being ready for an opportunity that was out there,” says Davenport. “It created a big buzz that put Virginia Beach on the map, and people are now interested in coming here to find out what Microsoft and Facebook know.”
That’s when the group for The Netherlands came in. “They brought a team of 15 people to Virginia Beach, and we met with them for two days,” Davenport continues. “All of a sudden we’re getting into these pretty high-level conversations with them, and not long after, they announced that, over the next 20 years, they are going to build a $2 billion data center park in the Corporate Landing/General Booth Boulevard area. It’s one of the biggest economic developments projects in the state, so it’s obviously pretty exciting. As a bonus, we’re going to be able to land the MAREA cable at Camp Pendleton, which is very exciting for Facebook and Microsoft because it’s a secure location.”
By linking the power of these transatlantic cables to what NxtVn is calling “a multi-tenant, open-access, carrier neutral data center,” Davenport is hoping this will help create competition throughout Coastal Virginia in terms of Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
“If you look at Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, they have six ISPs in that area,” he says. “As a result of that competition, they’ve got higher Internet speeds at lower costs to consumers. That’s the main goal—to create more opportunities for competition here.”
So, what’s the potential impact? The MAREA (which is Spanish for “tide”) cable is being touted as the highest capacity subsea cable to ever run across the Atlantic Ocean. “It will be able to deliver 161 terabytes (one terabyte = 1,024 gigabytes) per second,” says Davenport. “To put that in perspective, there are close to 32 transatlantic cables available right now. They have a total capacity—all of them together—of 300 terabytes per second. So one cable is going to have 50 percent of everything that exists, and it’s coming straight to Virginia Beach.”
Pratik Kothari, Founder and CEO of TechArk Solutions, an award-winning and nationally recognized digital consulting and web/mobile app development company based in Norfolk, but who also has a support team in India to provide his clients with faster response times, is excited about the opportunities these developments could bring to all of Coastal Virginia.
“Technology is really feeling a huge impact, not just for technology companies like us but across the sector, across various industries,” he says. “Real estate, insurance, manufacturing, healthcare, everything is being transformed, really getting destructed in a sense, with what technology is bringing to the table. So, it’s really perfect timing for this to be happening here now.”
Kothari understands that even though things are happening quickly right now, it may be some time before the true impact is felt throughout the area. “Think of it like a ripple effect,” he explains. “Because of these cables and the proposed data center, different technology companies will make a bid to come here. When that happens, then the tech jobs happen, then the real estate market will get impacted. You’ll see various different industries getting a stimulus because of the things these technology companies develop. That ultimately will have a major impact on the region.”