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Microsoft touts new cross-ocean fiber-optic cabling deals as cloud arms race continues

Subsea fiber optic cable.Subsea fiber optic cable.
Subsea fiber optic cable.Image courtesy of TE Connectivity SubCom

Typically when people talk about the cloud computing wars, the focus is on cheaper, more powerful computer resources, cheaper storage, and higher-end services. But fostering faster connectivity between far-flung data centers is a critical piece of the puzzle. Towards that end, Microsoft just announced new partnerships to provide speedier connections between North America and the rest of the world.

At International Telecoms Week in Chicago on Monday, Microsoft (MSFT) said it will use new transatlantic cables, owned and operated by Hibernia Networks and AquaComms, respectively, to connect Microsoft sites in North America to their analogues in Ireland and the United Kingdom. It also said it joined a consortium of major Asian telecommunications companies to provide improved connectivity to Asia. Further, Microsoft will build its first U.S. landing station to connect to Asia, according to a blog post by David Crowley, Microsoft’s managing director of network enablement.

The transpacific cable is slated to come online by the end of 2017. The Hibernia Express cable is slated to come online in September, 2015. It is unclear when the AquaComms cable will be ready. These deals are the latest in a series of investments by Microsoft and other tech giants; last year it bought fiber capacity from Seaborn Networks to build better links to South America.

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Fortune recently: “Cloud is a world-wide business. We all sit around in the United States and think about the West Coast of the U.S. as the world, and it’s not.”

Google (GOOG) was first out of the chute with the transpacific Unity cable which came online five years ago. Since that time, Microsoft and Facebook (FB) have jumped on the bandwagon, said Alan Mauldin, director of research for Telegeography, a research firm that follows this market closely. Last fall, Google upped the ante with its investment in a faster transpacific cable. That trio of companies now lead the pack in significant submarine cable investments, Mauldin added, with Amazon Web Services, Yahoo and others in pursuit.