05 Feb 2024
Lizzy McDowell, proud Mancunian and Marketing Manager at Kao Data, reflects on a changed city and an exciting landscape for data centres at the heart of the Northern tech revolution
Fundamentally Manchester means home. Growing up in Altrincham, I always knew Manchester had rich cultural heritage in music, science, art, fashion and football.
I also did a politics degree, so of course, I was aware of the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and Alan Turing and I was proud to be in such good company.
But I think I always gravitated more towards the bright lights of London because it felt like there wasn't as much of a buzz in Manchester at the time. It felt as though Manchester's heyday was in the past and like many people, I thought to build a decent career, it had to be in London.
But that just isn’t the case anymore. On a recent trip home, I hardly recognised the skyline –it looks more like Singapore than Manchester. It is a different city to the one I left and when it comes to ‘buzz’, nobody is doing it better.
The fact that Chanel Metiers d’art Show was just here (the only other host cities being Paris, Rome and New York), and Manchester was named as the place to visit in 2024 by The New York Times, just goes to show how things have changed on a world-wide scale and how much opportunity there is for the next generation - in tech and the economy in general.
That is why I am proud to represent a company that is making a firm commitment to Manchesters' long-term success. Kao Data’s new £350 million investment in a 40MW, highly sustainable data centre will have a huge impact on the tech industry and the city as a whole. Manchester is no longer a tech challenger, being home to some of the UKs leading researchers, academics, Unicorn’s and Start-Ups, and the data centre reinforces the city’s legitimacy as an international tech hub positioning it very much at the top table of next-tier data centre hubs within the UK and Europe.
For data-intensive businesses within Greater Manchester (many of whom use data centres in London due to the lack of local facilities able to cater for their requirements) and international giants of computing, our new data centre in Stockport will open up a whole variety of new opportunities for the colocation of their compute. The data centre will act as a huge catalyst for sparking this area of Greater Manchester into a new tech zone, providing new job opportunities that would not necessarily have existed before.
For the wider community, we know we have work to do to explain the benefits of a data centre on the doorstep. I describe it as a means to ‘keeping the tech lights on’! Data centres underpin our digital lives and while we may not realise it, we’re in close contact with a data centre via our mobiles and other digital devices pretty much throughout the entire day.
Manchester is expanding at a rapid rate with an estimated 7.2 million people living within one hour's distance from the city centre. There are also so many young people now living in and around the city region, including a significant student population.
They too are benefiting from an ambitious technology hub as it is now a first-choice destination for many people wanting to develop a career in tech.
This is a big shift from the old lure of the capital. People are now selecting Manchester because they can see great, modern, innovative businesses here with fantastic career opportunities. “Second city” perhaps, but certainly not second best - which is brilliant to see.
Manchester now has pioneering new companies like the Apple-authorised reseller brand Sync, which achieved unicorn status this year and or leading coding school Northcorders who won £10m funding boost to expand bootcamps in software development and data engineering.
Not forgetting of course, London Stock Exchange listed global technology and e-commerce giant the The Hut Group (THG), who have their own campus next to Manchester Airport and our very own Stockport neighbours and technology reseller platform – musicMagpie. Manchester is a leading place to put down roots because of businesses such as these
Kao Data are always very keen to support the communities in which we operate. From our Harlow and Slough campuses, we have developed a partnership with the UTC Heathrow Digital Futures programme. This helps us to introduce the younger generation to data centres, get them into our sites and encourage them to take part in various educational projects
We can’t wait to replicate all that up here in Manchester.
We like to do things right as we arrive in a new community - we don’t just turn up in a place like Manchester and make the investment without thinking about the consequences. Our focus is being 100% sustainable in all our dealings with people and making it a win-win for everyone.
We have been delighted with the initial response to our arrival from the business and neighbouring community in Greater Manchester. It has been really positive. They’re embracing the fact that we’re repurposing an old brownfield site and are happy we’re going to put a critical piece of tech infrastructure there. We’ve been so grateful. If we didn’t have their support this simply wouldn’t happen.
I also hope that by sharing my experience I can encourage more women to do the same and inspire more females and young people to consider a career in tech.
The data centre industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK – in all honesty, we can’t build quickly enough to meet future demand, especially from AI - and we are a young industry so there is plenty of opportunity to help shape it.
However, it’s frightening how few women work in tech or see data centres as a viable option for a career. That is something my colleagues and I at Kao Data are seeking to change, and it was great to see in our company awards this year, two of my colleagues Jo and Wendy picked up Employee of the Year and New Starter of the Year awards. In regard to our Greater Manchester project, we will be working with whoever we can help more women break into male-dominated tech spaces.
Why shouldn’t a young girl from Reddish one day manage the operations in Kao Data’s future data centre? The work of data centres shouldn't be thought of as male-centric and in addition, local people can also get involved. That’s a message I would like all aspiring young people in Stockport to be holding dear right now – one of the world’s most advanced data centres, packed full of cutting-edge AI hardware will be sat in their postcode within a couple of years. Why can’t someone who is currently at Stockport College right now, be sat alongside us a few years?
Having a new data centre is crucial to driving interest and establishing more international data centre expertise in the region and it will certainly boost Greater Manchester’s tech future.
We have chosen Manchester for that reason - it’s a genuine commitment to the city, my city. It’s a region which is moving forwards and which is paramount to British economic success. It is essential to explore new frontiers, away from the south-east, and stimulate industry in more regional areas where there is ample talent, less bottlenecks and that Northern warmth and attitude to aptitude things work.
We hope that by building the largest data centre in the north of England it will encourage our partners to get involved in further establishing the data centre market here in the city region. We need to expand capacity beyond the West London Availability Zones and Manchester is a big piece of that puzzle.
It's amazing to think that the company I work for is investing so much in my home city. To quote a typically Mancunian phrase – “I’m buzzing”, Manchester is buzzing and I'm really proud that Kao Data is going to make that buzz even louder.
It’s great to be back!
Find out why Manchester is the perfect choice for Kao Data's new 40MW Data Centre by downloading our whitepaper here