AQL expands data centre campus with ex-council building

AQL has completed an acquisition worth more than half a million pounds that will take its Leeds data centre estate to 110,000 sq ft

Adam Beaumont

The integrated communications company, which was founded in 1998 by managing director Adam Beaumont, purchased a 57,000 sq ft former council building located at South Point in the city.

It will be refurbished to house AQL’s third data centre in the city, which will dramatically increase its server capacity and form a campus of centres to serve the digital economy.

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Dr Beaumont told The Yorkshire Post the expansion is part of a strategy to ensure AQL can provide sufficient infrastructure to the expanding digital sector.

He said: “What we’re seeing is this accelerated need for data centre space by all of the smart, innovative digital companies that cropping up in Leeds and the region.

“We’ve got to keep this pipeline available for these customers. Building in Leeds has been a major focus for us.”

AQL provides mobile messaging services and supplies wholesale messaging platforms to international and UK networks. The company is responsible for more than 94 million numbers on 42 different telecoms networks. It also hosts 40 million UK numbers for voice services.

It created its first data centre in Leeds six years ago, acquiring the former Salem Chapel close to Leeds Bridge. Chosen due to its proximity to the fibre cabling in the city, it has 100 terabytes of capacity, which is “enough space to support the entire region’s digital infrastructure”.

It subsequently acquired a former council building at Apex Way in the city. Its renovation and build is due to be completed in March this year.

The Apex Way project highlighted the attractiveness of former council stock for AQL.

Dr Beaumont said: “Ex-council buildings, while they don’t look particularly exciting, they’re largely rectangular buildings and most of what we’re putting in them is rectangular stuff.

“They’re ideal candidates for us to turn into data centres because we end up ripping out all of the office fittings because what we really want is a bare building to then fit from scratch.”

The property at South Point was deemed to be ideal due to its current state.

“People will know it as ‘that ugly building with no windows in it near the flyover’,” Dr Beaumont said. “The great thing about that is because it’s actually been stripped out completely, it saves us the job of doing it.”

In addition to connecting South Point with its existing sites at Salem Chapel and Apex Way, AQL will work with architects and planners to ensure its building is sustainable.

Dr Beaumont said: “When we build our data centres, one of the things we do is to make sure we design them so that all the heat we generate can be exported and ran by way of heat sharing pipes to other schemes.

“We will be liaising with scheme operators to make sure we can export our waste heat to their buildings, so we become part of the ecosystem.”

AQL also owns land with planning permission to develop a large new-build data centre at a former Leeds chemical works site but Dr Beaumont said a scheme of that size is not yet on the cards.

“We’re building up organically to match the rate of growth and demand in Leeds,” he said.

However, the company does plan to continue acquisitions.

“We’re in discussions with some developers to acquire more space,” he said. “Nothing is signed yet but we’ve still got the appetite.”