Datacentre entrepreneur spies chance in Newcastle

Irish datacentre serial entrepreneur Noel Meaney has a new venture - in the north-east of England

There appears to be “a latency issue” on the conference call line, Noel Meaney jokes when we speak by phone. He should know. The Irish entrepreneur has been in the datacentre and fibre networking business for the whole of this century. He sold his 50 per cent shareholding in Citadel100 in 2013 and previous to that he founded euNetworks in 2003 and SeaFibre Networks in 2011. Now he’s back with a startup called Stellium that has purchased and revamped an unfitted datacentre in Tyneside, near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in north-east England.

“When I was looking for potentially a green-field location to start from scratch in the UK I was introduced to Cobalt Park,” he recalls. “It wasn’t operational but it was quite highly specced [specified], but it’s more than just a building. To have a successful datacentre you need to have three things: the building itself, electrical power and fibre connectivity.”

The physical facilities to extend capacity and access to more power are all in place already.

“Power is quite a scarce commodity in the UK and western Europe, but in the Newcastle area we have 80 megawatts [with the possibility of 120 megawatts in future] and that’s unique in the area because it allows us to look at expanding our footprint as and when a customer needs that.”

The connectivity issue had been a “drawback” but that was addressed by working with partners including local business groups and Stellium now benefits from a 40km metropolitan fibre network in Newcastle.

I should confess a personal interest here. I grew up in Shiremoor, a few miles from Cobalt Park, although back then in the 1970s the huge business park didn’t exist and the area was called West Allotment. It was a former coal mining village with streets of terraced houses and surrounding fields but boasting a strong local football team that dated back to 1928. Today the place is dwarfed by Cobalt, the UK’s biggest park of its kind by some counts.

Stellium and Cobalt Park act as a microcosm for the region that was once a powerhouse of mining, steel, shipbuilding and manufacturing but is now refocusing on being a service economy with a large digital component. It’s no pipe dream: Newcastle can already boast one native software giant in accounting firm Sage but HP, Accenture and Red Hat all have significant presences there. Local universities such as Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside provide academic heft and there is a healthy crop of startups.


Seeking a hat-trick

Meaney’s plan is a triptych. He wants to attract wholesale, cloud provider and direct business customers that will use Newcastle as a carrier-neutral local hub with spokes out to London, Dublin, Amsterdam and beyond. He says he’s not sure which of these categories will be the biggest though.

“They’re all very different,” he says. “The transition from cloud is not something that is just for SMEs; most large enterprises have pretty much said that ultimately they will move to a cloud infrastructure [even if at first] it might be a hybrid solution.

“I was very much impressed with the whole technology scene that’s in the North-East. It lends itself in no small way to being a technology hub. I hope [Stellium] will be quite an attractive proposition and we’ve been busy integrating ourselves into the local business environment.”

Some customers are already taking their places and there are memoranda of understanding with others, Meaney says. The big picture is that business leaders can focus on business while datacentre operators focus on the back-end processing, storage, backup and networking.

Meaney says he has plans for other brands in the area that might get announced in the first half of 2017 but he plays a straight bat to my cunning suggestion that he plough his money into becoming owner or at least shirt sponsor of fanatically supported, famously underachieving Newcastle United FC. And that, quite possibly, is the distinction between optimism and blind faith.


Also read:
Accenture seeks a second act in theatre of new services
Accenture man builds North-East tech hub
Accenture grads make mark in Newcastle
Resurgent Newcastle mines data seams