The Cloud operated from the underground

Most people are aware of their daily dependency on the internet, but probably only a few understand the critical role played by the subsea networks spanning the planet in providing that connectivity. Stop and think for a moment how many web pages and services you consume on a daily basis are hosted across the ocean – in a different continent, or across the channel that parts the UK from the rest of Europe.

In the times of globalization and fast-growing cloud business, this is quite a valuable asset to be aware of, considering the massive amounts of traffic that flow between these distances. Subsea cables lying more than 5’000 meters (17’000 feet) below the ocean’s surface, represent the backbone of the internet and any service depending on network connection.

Back in 2016, Microsoft partnered together with Facebook to build the most technologically advanced subsea cable “Marea” to cross the Atlantic Ocean. “Marea” is Spanish for “tide” and connects Bilbao (Spain) with Virginia (USA). Only two years after the project launch, the cable was taken into operations.

A new standard for subsea cables

Why would Microsoft partner with Facebook for such a significant investment? Clearly, it must be necessary for the cloud strategy and has to do with Azure. “Marea” is connecting Virginia Beach, one of the Azure Regions, with Bilbao in Spain. This entry point in Europe allows further extension of connections and ultimately services to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The image below gives some indications.

Subsea Cable Marea Azure Connection Network

Putting those interesting facts about “Marea” into other perspectives, for our European readers…

Length6’660 KM (4,000 miles)The Nile with 6’700 KM is the longest river in the world…
Weight 4’600 Tons (10.25m pounds) Which is as much as 34 blue whales…
Data Rate 160 Terabit/s Capability to stream 71 million HD Videos, simultaneously…
Depth on average 3’330m The Matterhorn from the Swiss Alps is 4’478 meters (14,692 ft) high
Construction time less than 2 years A single-family house is built in between 6 to 12 months.

Why investing in own subsea cables?

Marea continues a trend of cloud companies investing in their high-capacity subsea cables, rather than merely leasing them from other operators. Being physically separated from all the other cables helps Microsoft and Facebook ensure more resilient and reliable connections for their customers in the United States, Europe and beyond. In a time when global economies are deepening their reliance on cloud technologies a significant aspect to look at to advance technological capabilities. It helps to own more of the end-to-end infrastructure and to share it with lesser partners you have to come to agreements with, regarding standards, security, and use of the cable. There’s also more predictability in how utilization of the cable will look like, with lesser partners on the table.

Owning a subsea cable gives more control than joining a consortium of telecom providers. Moreover, the capacity also doesn’t have to be shared with others, For Microsoft, investments in subsea cable such as “Marea” will help improve the various cloud services, such as Azure, Office 365, Skype and Xbox Live which is crucial for the success of the company – think about the various services that automatically allow you to keep your data fault tolerant and remote-site-stored for resilience. One of the reasons why Azure DNS is so reliable and fast, you can read the article about our move to Azure DNS here. Another one of them may be Azure CDN. Of course, also other tech giants such as Google are investing in subsea cables.

There’s just one more thing…

Investing in subsea cables is not a new trend. Tech companies have been making sizable investments in global networking infrastructure for years. Did you know that the first cable was laid in the 1850s establishing the first instant telecommunications links between continents? Any hundreds have been following. Have a look on; this map will show you all available connections.

With “Marea”, a new standard for subsea cables has been established because it is designed to meet today’s demand and evolve with the progress of tomorrow – which is important, as internet traffic is expected to increase eightfold by 2025. Did you know, Microsoft is already one of the largest network providers? Read this article, Microsoft owns and runs one of the largest WAN backbones in the world.


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