More than just windmills and tulips, The Netherlands is the Digital Gateway to Europe

The Netherlands has fewer than 17 million people, but it is a digital powerhouse on the western edge of Europe. Many of the world's leading information and communication technology companies are setting up shop in Holland because of the Internet and security infrastructure, business climate and workforce.

This column is available in a weekly newsletter called IT Best Practices.  Click here to subscribe.  

What are the first things that come to mind when you think of The Netherlands? Windmills? Tulips? Quaint houses surrounded by canals? Yes, certainly all of those stereotypical icons are true, but the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) would like for another impression to pop into your head: The Netherlands as the Digital Gateway to Europe.

I recently toured this industrious country of almost 17 million people on the western edge of Europe to see what they are doing to deserve this title. It turns out they're doing many things right to attract the likes of Google, Cisco, Netflix, Facebook, Microsoft, GoDaddy, IBM, Huawei and many others.

Netherland tech companies

According to Eric van Pelt of the NFIA, there are several reasons why information and communication technology (ICT) businesses flock to The Netherlands. For one, the country's laws and corporate tax policies are business-friendly. Multinational companies that set up shop get to keep more of what they earn, and what company doesn't want that?

Next, the country boasts of having an excellent and secure Internet infrastructure. Eleven of the 15 undersea cables that connect the Americas to Europe converge in The Netherlands. ICT companies find it advantageous to sit on top of the connection for the Internet to the entire European continent.

According to Akamai, in Q1 of 2014, The Netherlands ranked 5th in the world for average Internet connection speed. And with AMS-IX and NL-ix, critical exchanges for Internet traffic, located in Holland, it's easy for various ISPs and cloud providers to find each other to exchange traffic. AMS-IX is the largest exchange in terms of connected Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs). Its Internet traffic has increased 13-fold in the past 8 years, with 30% growth over just the past year. The NL-ix Internet Exchange is a shared and distributed Dutch infrastructure in 30+ datacenters, where ISPs, carriers, telcos, content providers, media companies, VoIP operators and other large Internet players can set up peering connections and exchange mutual Internet traffic at almost no costs.

A third advantage companies find in Holland is an educated and skilled workforce. From an early age, Dutch residents learn multiple languages that are helpful in a global business market. Fourteen universities and numerous trade schools across the country prepare people for careers in demand, especially in technology positions. For example, at Hogeschool van Amsterdam (University of Applied Sciences), students working towards degrees in software engineering and green IT are doing ground-breaking research that will lead to significant changes in the way we design software to reduce computers' energy consumption.

Another boost is that national and regional government agencies are willing to invest in public/private research and development that leads to innovative approaches to some of society's toughest problems. One example of such collaboration is COMMIT/, which unites academic research and non-profit organizations in ICT. Ten universities, five technological institutes, and more than 60 large and small businesses participate in 15 public/private multi-party projects through COMMIT/. One of the current projects is a serious game called LOITER designed to train the social skills of police officers. Players of the game have to resolve a conflict with a group of loitering juveniles. By playing this game, police trainees can improve their social awareness and learn more about diffusing difficult situations. To see what else COMMIT/ has cooking, view a booklet of golden demos.

Another shining example of public/private collaboration is The Hague Security Delta (HSD). As the largest security cluster in Europe, HSD is comprised of more than 400 security companies, educational institutions and government agencies working together on innovations and knowledge in the field of cyber security, national and urban security, protection of critical infrastructure, and forensics. The new HSD Campus in The Hague is home to the national innovation center for security with state-of-the-art labs for serious gaming, real-time intelligence and incident experience, education and training facilities, flexible office space, and meeting rooms. The belief is that problems in security are not solved with single products; for example, putting surveillance cameras in a city doesn't eliminate crime. It's when multiple solutions are used in concert that real problems can be solved.

The Europol Cybersecurity Center is located at The Hague Security Delta. This presence allows Europol to work with businesses to help set the curriculum that universities in The Netherlands use to train the talent that will be entering the workforce soon. This way students get a very practical education that is immediately applicable toward addressing current cybersecurity needs. And unlike the U.S., there isn't a shortage of skilled IT security professionals. The universities make a strong effort to keep the pipeline of graduates flowing into the workforce. They recruit "high potentials" from all over the world to enter into high quality educational programs.

Yet another example of how the Dutch government helps to support nascent high tech companies is the Dutch Game Garden, whose mission is to create employment and economic growth by stimulating the games industry in The Netherlands. By providing facilities and myriad services, the Dutch Game Garden helps startup game companies establish themselves, promote the healthy growth of their studios and further the development of high quality games for both entertainment and serious applications. Again, there is a strong tie-in to university programs where students are learning how to create games. Many students begin as interns at one of the dozens of gaming companies supported by the Garden, and often they go on to startup their own companies. As of 2013, the Dutch Game Garden has helped to launch or grow more than 300 gaming companies in The Netherlands.

On the other end of the technology spectrum is a company called Interxion. This company is a leading provider of cloud- and carrier-neutral colocation data center services in Europe. Interxion supports over 1,400 customers through 38 state-of-the-art data centers across 11 countries and hosts 20 of the 22 Internet exchanges in Europe. More than just building and operating data centers, Interxion creates "hubs" where businesses can connect with one another for mutual commercial benefit.

The Netherlands is very big on environmental concerns, and green IT fits right into that belief. As it happens, Green IT is the name of a consortium of companies in the ICT and energy sectors, regional authorities and knowledge institutes. The participants are working on specific projects that are an impetus for the emergence of a "green collar" economy in The Netherlands.

Closely related to Green IT is the Software Improvement Group (SIG), which is committed to delivering practical, actionable insights that enable companies to reduce their software costs, increase their software systems' effectiveness, and shorten IT project delivery times.

There's much more going on in the ICT sector in The Netherlands. This is just a sampling of the focused efforts to solidify this dynamic country as the Digital Gateway to Europe. What they are doing is working. All one needs to do is drive through the cities to see buildings sporting one logo after another of the world's leading ICT companies .

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.