TALKS are under way to bring one of the world’s largest digital firms to Yorkshire in a possible £900m investment deal that would transform the region into one of the biggest data storage hubs in Europe.
Executives at the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – which covers the whole of South Yorkshire – are in discussions with firms including Amazon, Apple and Facebook over the possibility of constructing a series of massive data warehouses in the area.
The project, dubbed CloudCity, seeks to capitalise on the increasing trend towards ‘cloud computing’ – the storage of vast amounts of personal and commercial data and software online.
Firms such as Amazon and Facebook now require huge warehouses to host many thousands of computers, which act as servers where their vital data is stored.
LEP bosses believe South Yorkshire is the perfect location to site data storage centres, and have held high-level talks with several global firms instigated by Downing Street.
The arrival of one of the world’s biggest technology firms would provide a massive boost to the regional economy, with hundreds of high-skilled jobs created directly and potentially many more over the long-term as the region’s reputation as a hub for digital industries continues to grow.
Simon Green, an executive director at Sheffield City Council, said: “The CloudCity programme has the potential to transform the Sheffield City Region into an internationally recognised digital powerhouse and be at the centre of the next industrial revolution, which is digital.
“It will not only grow best of breed technology businesses and products in the Sheffield City Region, but it will also give engineers and entrepreneurs the tools to collaborate and succeed.”
The LEP believes South Yorkshire is an ideal place to host data centres due to its cool, stable climate – minimising the running costs of the huge cooling systems needed to prevent computers from overheating – and the availability of significant unused capacity for direct connectivity with the power grid, a legacy from the region’s days as a giant of steel production.
Work has already begun identifying possible sites. As many as three data centres could be built, each up to 250,000 sq ft in size, at a cost of an estimated £900m.
LEP chairman James Newman said he was hopeful a major deal could be agreed within the next two months.
“CloudCity is one of the Sheffield City Region’s key programmes for growth,” he said. “It’s bold and it’s ambitious, and we hope to see other major announcements before the end of 2012 – including partnership with some of the biggest names in global technology.”
Over the longer-term, LEP bosses believe a global technology giant investing in the region would be sure to engage with their wider aim of making South Yorkshire a hub for digital businesses.
“We already have upwards of 50,000 people working in the creative and digital industries in Sheffield City Region,” said Lee Strafford, the internet entrepreneur and co-founder of broadband firm Plusnet, and a director at the local LEP.
“As a percentage of the workforce that’s probably the largest of any major city in the country.”
The LEP is already working with Amazon’s web services division on a programme to offer mentoring support to start-up digital firms in the local area.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) director of innovation Frank DiGiammarino said: “AWS has a strong focus on helping local businesses and governments around the world to grow. We are excited to be supporting the LEP.”
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