The global Internet community was shaken up recently by the proposed introduction of a new law by the Russian government. This law defines the norms and terms of the country's Internet sovereignty. Some experts were worried that this new legislation pushed the country down the Chinese “Great Firewall” scenario and allowing the state to close the national internet and "switch it off" if it desires to do so.
After working in Russia for more than ten years and building a data center business that is growing twice as fast as the local market, I believe that I know a thing or two about the state of the Russian Internet. And my forecast is much more optimistic.
Firstly, let's clarify the difference between "data sovereignty" and "Internet sovereignty." The law about data sovereignty came into power in 2015 guiding and protecting the Russian citizens’ legal rights. It ensures that the master copy of this data is located, usually on a physical server, within Russia. All international businesses that wish to operate within this largest Internet market in Europe must abide by this law. Therefore, its introduction gives a substantial boost to the local data center industry.
Internet sovereignty is about traffic networks, Internet infrastructure and its protection from an accidental shut down from outside or inside Russia.
The process reflected in this law aims to make the Russian Internet more resilient, which is both normal and expected in the current global climate.
Secondly, a lot of countries already have data sovereignty laws - starting from the US with the Patriot Act to Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, France and other countries of the European Union. The introduction of such laws is a normal process of rebalancing the capacity of the internet and sharing it more equally across the 200+ countries on the planet. If such regulations were a cause for concern regarding human rights violations and other problems, it's unlikely that developed Western democracies would be able to implement them.
Thirdly, the Russian Internet is big and fully integrated into the global net, with the majority of businesses and even government organizations relying on cloud services from both local and international providers. In these circumstances shutting it down would mean significant disruption for the national economy - the chances of this happening I consider very remote.
But there are clear benefits of Internet sovereignty for Russia that go beyond national security. Stronger Internet infrastructure encourages international companies to set up their systems inside the country, leading to an increase in employment and investment within the tech industry and the growth of the data center market.
The Russian segment of the Internet is the largest in Europe. It is an exciting space because on the one side it is protected, partly due to the language and the character set, partly due to such innovative homegrown businesses as Yandex and Mail.ru. It is also on the direct route from Asia to Europe with Moscow being a significant hub where Chinese, Russian and international players all cohabit. That is not so much the case in Western Europe or the US. So, it's a fascinating place to be now, a very dynamic space.
Imagine that just about three years ago, there was more data center capacity in Luxembourg, than there was in the Russian Federation. Data centers are the "airports of the Internet."
There's a large airport near every major city in Russia, but only major data centers in Moscow and St Petersburg. And this will change. That is contributing to robust growth of more than 22 percent in our industry.