It’s been some years since anyone’s been able to write this: Australia will soon have a new facility manufacturing high-end data centre hardware.
California-based vendor of data centre appliances SoftIron, which recently won a multi-petabyte storage contract for National Computing Infrastructure, announced its intention to manufacture here in October last year, and chief operations officer Jason Van Der Schyff told iTnews the equipment is in place and ready for commissioning.
While SoftIron doesn’t get involved in silicon fabrication, Van Der Schyff said the facility will be replicating the manufacturing capabilities the company has already built in California: product will start as components and bare circuit boards, and be built all the way to loading customer configurations.
Recent geopolitics has given customers a renewed interest in the provenance of their products, particularly where national security or critical infrastructure is concerned.
“What we've historically found is that people either really care about secure provenance, or they don't. It sort of just depends on your utility. A lot of people are just looking for object storage, it's not going into a classified environment," he said.
Knocking on doors in Canberra, Van Der Schyff said “there was the view that it really mattered”.
“We know what the Commonwealth’s position is on foreign actors in technology,” he said.
And even facilities that don’t look sensitive can act as jumping points to other environments, he noted.
Another consideration has been how Covid-19 put the fragility of supply chains in the spotlight all over the world.
“We made the decision in August 2020, and it has almost become reinforcing every week at this point as we started to see supply chain issues – we started to see problems in getting products," Van Der Schyff said.
“We can increase the resilience of our manufacturing by building the same products in multiple locations.
“This means that if something were to happen, whether it’s a natural disaster, whether it’s a supply chain disaster, or an invasion (for argument’s sake, given the relevance at the moment), there’s some level of resilience there.”
Australia has a sizeable data centre market of its own, and Van Der Schyff noted, it has access to booming South East Asian markets like Indonesia and Singapore.
Australia is also hosting the first step in SoftIron’s strategy to deploy its own manufacturing in multiple sites around the world.
“We've always taken a position that we would want to own the control of manufacturing. So we're not going to go out to a contract manufacturer, even if we become really large and really successful," he said.
Rather than the Tesla “Gigafactory” model, SoftIron wants to model itself on Volkswagen, which makes its popular Golf in 10 factories “strategically scattered about the globe”.
The company was also able to secure commonwealth funds via the now-axed sovereign industrial capability priority grants program.