Coal Mines, Submarine Bunkers and Undersea Cables: Exploring Data Centers’ Infrastructural Ecologies in Marseille (FR)

On October the 19th 2021, Marseille (France) became the 5th most connected cities in the world, as a 15th undersea cable named «Peace», connecting France to China, was plugged into the port. The proliferation of undersea cables has recently been identified by major players in the data center industry as an important asset to further their business. For example, data center operator Interxion has installed four data centers in Marseille since 2015, gaining a specific advantage in the economic competition as it connects the European market and consumers to Africa, the Middle East and China. This strategic position was spotted by media provider Disney+, which partnered with Interxion to launch its new streaming platform in spring 2020 and at the same time inaugurated Interxion's newest data center in Marseille, MRS3. Built in a submarine bunker inherited of the German occupation during WW2, this data center is presented by the operator as its new flagship, especially due to the effort made by the operator to build an environmentally exemplary infrastructure.

Data centers are known for their heavy energy consumption and the many issues that accompany their concentration in local areas (Marquet 2018; Diguet et Lopez 2019; Bresnihan et Brodie 2020). Thus, our empirical study leads us to interview operators of data centers, energy providers, and public authorities as well as to analyze documents on the strategy and politics of data centers. This presentation will discuss the disordering and reordering produced by data centers installation, exploring data centers’ ecologies in Marseille through their many entanglements with the local infrastructural legacy and environmental history. In doing so, we seek to contribute to materialist studies of digital infrastructures (Holt et Vondereau 2015; Starosielski 2016) and situate our work in a collective effort to recover the spatial and temporal orders of the large-scale facilities underpinning digital capitalism.