Onyx eyes region for expansion after colliery IT centre launch

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TECHNOLOGY and data security group Onyx could open more centres in Yorkshire, following the successful launch of its regional base on a former colliery site.

The private equity-backed firm is helping large Yorkshire companies to manage their IT systems more efficiently, and it also provides them with a “bolt-hole” in emergencies.

Onyx has invested £2m in its South Yorkshire data centre in Manvers, and it already has dozens of customers in Yorkshire.

The 500 business continuity work stations at Manvers, which is in the heart of a former mining community, can be used by companies if their workplace becomes inaccessible. There has been strong demand for the continuity centre in Yorkshire recently, due to bad weather and flooding.

Onyx regards Yorkshire as a “key priority” because it has the fastest growing digital sector outside London.

In October 2011, ISIS Equity Partners announced an investment worth £42m in the Onyx Group, in conjunction with the Onyx management team.

As a result of the agreement, ISIS owns the majority of Onyx Group, which is based in Stockton-on-Tees.

As well as funding the £27m purchase price, ISIS committed a further £15m to fund strategic acquisitions.

Last year, Onyx revealed that it planned to add a further 20,000 sq ft to its existing 22,000sq ft centre at Manvers, which gave it the capacity for a total of 250 racks of computer servers and 500 workstations.

Its growth reflects the paramount importance of IT systems in the modern workplace.

Neil Stephenson, the chief executive of the £20m turnover Onyx Group, said yesterday: “We provide protection in the event of power going off, and protection in terms of keeping the (IT) kit cool.

“It’s like putting your IT system in a bank, it’s that secure.

“Twenty years ago, the IT man was often self-taught and used a screwdriver.

“In most businesses today, the IT is critical and there isn’t a paper-based system to replace it. The pain is immediate.

“We’ve got 10 staff based in Yorkshire, which is 10 per cent of our workforce. The customers who use Manvers have an over-arching theme – it is their critical reliance on IT.”

The company’s clients include lawyers, accountants, manufacturers and logistics firms.

Mr Stephenson added: “Sheffield (Manvers) has achieved the fastest sales growth we have seen.”

Mr Stephenson said Onyx had been growing across the UK, and had been looking to establish a base that would be convenient for Leeds and Sheffield, but not based in either city.

“Manvers ticked a lot of boxes,’’ he said.

“It’s a brand new estate, with great infrastructure and power. It’s close to South Yorkshire Police headquarters – which has got 500 police based there – which makes it very secure.”

“In the past, when businesses suffered an interruption, they thought they could just go and rent another office.”

However, according to Mr Stephenson, it can take 60 to 90 days for a company to find another office.

“If you interrupt a business for 60 to 90 days, it doesn’t start again,’’ he said. “If you’ve got a problem, your mission critical staff can come to us.

“It’s an insurance policy. I try not to be a prophet of doom, but there have been a steady stream of bad winters and business interruption scenarios.”

On average, the business continuity centre is used once every two months.

“There was a geographical gap in the market,’’ he said. “People were driving past to go elsewhere.”

Mr Stephenson said the data centre market was growing by 15 per cent a year.

“We think it’s a growing market. We would like to be bigger in that market. We have been growing organically and we are up for making acquisitions and doing other data centres.”

He said Onyx’s plans might include other data and continuity centres in Yorkshire.

During a downturn, a company’s spending on IT often goes up as they look to make their systems more efficient, Mr Stephenson said.

Companies could also face severe sanctions if they failed to use the services that companies like Onyx offered, he added.