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Make Way for Cascadia Gateway Initiative, a Long-Overdue Connection with Lots of Upside

Dec 6, 2018
by Josh Anderson

VANCOUVER, BC & SEATTLE, WA — When it comes to the Pacific Northwest, the construction of an independent, reliable, continuous, redundant, carrier-neutral and high-density fiber optic network between the current Western Canadian Internet technology hub at the Harbour Centre in Vancouver and the existing main Interconnect hub for the U.S. Pacific Northwest in Seattle, may be the biggest, most buzzworthy development on the horizon.

data center summitLed by Varinet, stakeholders for the Cascadia Gateway Initiative include the City of Surrey, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Simon Fraser University, BW-Global Inc. and a number of other companies currently involved in the design and building of core-hardened fiber optic networks.

The $180 Million project is slated to break ground in February 2019. The fiber link will run through a brand new, highly green, state-of-the-art data center proposed by VariNet for the City of Surrey and the Surrey City Development Corporation, and the project initiative also involves a sub-sea fiber connection to a new network connecting with Asia. Furthermore, VariNet will also build an 85,000 square feet greenhouse to re-purpose the wasted air from the new data center into heat for plant-life.

I’ve been watching the sub-marine capacity grow along the west coast of the U.S. for ten plus years, maybe fifteen. And for the longest time we were sitting on maybe 20-30 terabytes in total capacity of all cables up and down the coast,” remarked Michael Boyle, Strategic Planning Director for the Westin Exchange Building in Seattle, who is more than excited about this development, and others.

“In a few short years, and we’re talking 2016-2020, we will see zeros added to those numbers with individual brand new cable capacity being 40, 60, 80 and 120, terabits of new capacity to Asia, Australia and New Zealand from North America and ultimately Europe,” Boyle continued.

Ken Thorpe, Owner, VariNet

We also spoke with Ken Thorpe, Owner of Varinet, for some personal insight on what the Initiative means for the region. “At the end of the day we are dealing with an under-served regional area that transcends the international border. There is no dark fiber left between Vancouver and Seattle,” shared Thorpe. “So today there is only 48 strands of terrestrial fiber connecting the two cities and 48 strands of sub-sea that break all the time. What we are putting in is 864 strands — in essence 8x larger than what is in place right now.”

“We’re connecting with the various counties, port authorities, and public utility districts from the border south who are all interested in being interconnected. They have their own internal fiber networks but they are like islands. So we look like the highway to these folks,” Thorpe beamed.

Thorpe shared that the remaining regulatory challenges exist mostly south of the border. “We are still working on some right of way and permitting issues,” he shared. “There are 42 agencies to deal with south of the border and only 3 agencies are north of the border. The U.S. just has another level of government that Canada doesn’t have. The U.S. has county levels and that additional level makes it a little more complicated.”

According to the official website of the initiative, the planed ten-acre data center may create hundreds of new jobs and should establish Surrey as the leader in technology for Western Canada. Other than government facilities, there are currently no Tier III or Tier IV data centers in the Surrey area.

According to Michael Boyle, however, the largest impact may very well be felt outside of Surrey and down the West Coast of North America.

“What we are seeing is kind of a pent-up supply coming ashore and lacking capacity on the terrestrial realm,” explained Boyle. “Both long haul but also to the individual areas within the region. And it’s in the best interest of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia to look at that, kind of, geopolitically, and do whatever they can as a collective group to build new fiber capacities hopefully along different routes, to increase data opportunities and network flow within a given region.”

“The more coastal diversity we have, the more robust the network can be,” he stressed. “Hopefully we will see the Cascadia Gateway Project as not just a new cable landing station in Vancouver, but connecting British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon to the global digital economy.”

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