Digital infrastructure progresses in the pandemic
Kao Data CEO Lee Myall (pictured) tells Abigail Opiah why transitioning to a CEO role while juggling with the new state of the world, was – and still is – a fascinating experience.
At the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, Kao Data hired Lee Myall as chief executive officer amid preparations for the company’s second phase of its £230 million Harlow campus development. Taking on a new CEO role is not to be downplayed at the best of times, but add a pandemic to the mix and the experience takes on a new dimension.
“We were all already busy with a lot of change anyway, and then suddenly when you are talking about moving jobs, you are looking at bringing about a lot of change on top of the challenges of last year,” he explains.
“We all get approached with job offers throughout our working life but there are always a few that get increasingly interesting. People can offer you all the other aspects that make it attractive, but when I tucked into Kao Data, I saw that this was some top-notch digital infrastructure that is serving an interesting market.
“This business is still at its earlier days of gaining momentum, and joining the team at a time when there are certain aspects of the business that we are maturing a bit more to keep up with the growth is something I have done before and never gets old.”
Myall is right. Since its inception in 2014, Kao Data has been expanding organically, providing cloud, HPC, AI and enterprise customers with a home for their compute. Myall says he is relieved to have been in the digital infrastructure sector as the pandemic kicked in because these businesses have been kept busy.
“It is also a massive responsibility to be able to underpin a lot of activity that is driving even harder during these times. Being in the innovation corridor, we are in the global centre of excellence for research and development in life sciences and biotech, and that work has been going on in earnest,” says Myall.
“We have got mission-critical activity happening on mission-critical infrastructure in our facility that is in one of its most intense periods probably ever. We will manage through this, but one thing that the world is waking up to is the fact that we have to keep ahead of the game on these things.
“That is a big responsibility on our part. We build centres, DC’s and campuses with the highest level of engineering standards and capabilities, and they are living up to that. Our working practices change and we disperse a lot more than we would normally do and have therefore become obsessive about making sure only the people that are critical to the operation go to the data centre.”
Kao Data recently signed a connectivity partnership with Network as a Service provider Megaport to expand its capabilities in providing cloud connectivity from hyperscalers including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.
“Also, our investment and development of the north London campus has continued to pace over the last year. The team, before I arrived, were getting great optionality on connectivity so that the data centre can be integrated with wider solutions through Megaport, for example,” he explains.
“What we have done with Megaport is allow our customers to interconnect with other instances of compute that they may have elsewhere.
“They can hub that out of the innovation corridor via Kao without Megaport partnership. We are also working on the softer aspects of ensuring that we remain a working community using tools like Microsoft Teams to keep in touch.”
Myall has been involved in digital infrastructure for quite some time and rich interconnectivity has been a big part of that. He further explains that Kao Data has a growing pipeline of customers and, through talking with them, the company gets to understand the optionality that works for them and makes the campus more attractive — not only for prospective customers but also existing ones.
He adds: “If we can give them a global fabric platform on a plate in a few clicks that they can then collaborate and connect securely and almost instantly with other members of the global community, it is an investment that enhances the value of the facility to the customer and it will not stop.”
The north London-based data centre company is one of the largest campus developments in the UK and is grasping sustainability in scalable computing with two metaphorical hands, but Myall says that customers are searching for so much more these days.
“They are looking for excellence in engineering, industrial-scale in terms of knowing that we can run with their demands and keep ahead of them, and they are looking for operational excellence. If you are going to provide critical services, you need to help your customers sleep at night by aligning the things that could keep them awake. Things like uptime, quality, high performance, security and all of those other technical and operational excellence are woven into Kao Data,” he says.
“The processes and the level of obsession about getting the process of procedure right and maintaining that and living to those ISO standards is built into the company — it is not just there so that we get the certificate once a year, we live and breathe it every day.
“It means something to the customer because we are helping people find a home for leading-edge HPC, AI technology. These customers are buying the most demanding compute technology on the planet right now — and by demanding, I mean gobbling up power, needing to be homed somewhere that has the industrial scale and technical excellence to match the technology that they are putting in the facility.”
Myall claims that people who are trying to get the next best place for their HPC, AI and GPU deployments are finding Kao Data because the company is getting a name for itself in that space.
“These things then wrap themselves around the technology that people are looking to deploy that is hugely demanding. It is also massively expensive, thus if it is not being housed well and you are not able to run it hot 24/7, you are not going to get your return,” he says.
Kao Data’s Harlow campus will sit on 15 acres and will support an IT load of more than 40MW across 150,000 sqft of technical space and is backed by Legal & General Capital and Goldacre - Noe Group.
“We have two good investors that have deep expertise in real estate — there is involvement in technical real estate as well and we are growing at a pace where we can gobble up quite a bit of money,” Myall concludes.
“Our job is to plan and manage effectively so that we create a smooth journey for our investors on one side, and then our customers on the other side. The other thing that our investors enable us to do is, if someone wants us to build to suit, then we can accommodate that too because we have all the permissions we need to develop that campus without any glitches and to their specification.
“The market that we are in has plenty of room to absorb us in terms of energy, obsession and passion. However, the thing about Kao and particularly our technical leaders is that you will see iterative improvements in excellence on top of the deployment of things like moving away from diesel to vegetable oil-based fuels for generators.
“That is not the full focus but the constant striving for the next best thing to gain a bit more efficiency for us to better operate with a greater level of responsibility to the planet will continue.”
Kao Data plans to keep ahead of where AI and GPU-powered AI is going and make sure it is ready to house it.