In this episode Chris and I chat about how Leading Edge Data Centres is bridging the digital divide of regional Australia, and how edge computing will enable more reliable, stable and cost-efficient internet connection in Newcastle NSW.
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welcome to episode 47 of new tech people today we’ve got chris thorpe ceo and founder of leading edge dc
welcome chris hi james how are you very good very good mate um for those who don’t know you uh you are new to the region uh can you give people a bit of an overview of who you are let’s start with who you are and then we’ll go into leading edge dc absolutely um yeah i’m chris thorpe um i’m the ceo and founder of leading edge data centers we’re actually building a network of highly connected data centers across regional australia and we’re starting off with newcastle nice i like that and that is the reason we’re here today i i think you guys have a very similar approach to regional regional australia as us here we’re up in here we’re a newcastle specific brand and you’re obviously making newcastle a big player here why newcastle to start with um newcastle’s i think one of the the fastest growing regions in australia and you know this morning i came here early had breakfast down at the beach why wouldn’t you come and live here so it’s obviously a very attractive place to to come into and i think just historically newcastle’s been ignored from from an i.t infrastructure perspective it’s sort of come out sort of second best or second rated so we thought it was about time that we actually um brought some world-class i.t infrastructure into newcastle and then that really becomes an enablement platform for local businesses and national and global businesses to actually house their it infrastructure and really sort of starts to empower the region nice and what is it you’re actually doing what are you building here in newcastle when newcastle we have a 1.5 megawatt campus which is effectively three data halls or sorry four data halls that we’re we’re creating so we launched the first data hall in uh november yeah so da has already been approved yeah council’s approved the whole development um we do have some other sites in newcastle as well so that that will come to light in the not too distant future um so we’re looking to look we’re launching in november so we’re just at the moment engaging with quite a few anchor tenants so we’re working out obviously who the who the first companies are going to be that will be housing the infrastructure and what what we’re building is a tier three um certified data center facility which is exactly the very similar infrastructure to what you find in sydney yeah nice and that’ll be the first first four newcastle to have at tier three level absolutely yes if you drive out of sydney uh the first tier three facility you come to is toowoomba up in queensland wow so there’s there’s a real void of of there’s hardly any infrastructure when you drive out of sydney yeah and i know what in previous discussions we’ve had and that is the play around what leading edge data centers are doing is that regional approach provide higher levels of infrastructure for regional regional cities and newcastle being the first of those who are some of the other other cities or towns that you’ve got on your map well we’ve got sites all sites with power and with fiber if you haven’t got fiber as and diverse fiber paths you’re building a very expensive shed as in it needs multiple diverse fiber paths multiple carriers trying to build that connectivity hub wherever you are so we’ve got sites in aubury uh wagga parks yeah dubbo tamworth uh coffs harbour obviously newcastle we’ve got a site down in gosford as well we’ve got orange and bathurst and we’re also now just scouting sites in around tweed gold coast region and we are also looking at port macquarie so we’ve got there’s about 14 sites in total at this stage and we’re literally just moving into victoria so we’re we’re currently zeroing on some properties in geelong ballarat bendigo uh wangaratta shepparton wow so there’s quite a few locations coming through there victoria might be on the back burner for a little while yeah yes we’re watching uh yeah we’re watching uh the covert 19 spike very closely to see what’s happening down there i think what’s important to understand is the evolution i think of of it infrastructure in australia and why regional has actually missed out you’ve got a lot of the subsea cables come into sydney so naturally by default your the data center environment has sort of been built out in metropolitan sydney yeah so the cloud obviously has been a massive explosion in the cloud you’ve got the likes of aws you’ve got microsoft and google cloud the three sort of predominant you know the three majors so there’s they’re literally building football fields of you know equivalent size for for data centers so the explosion in crowd in cloud is is fantastic and it’s good for for sydney but you drive out of sydney your connectivity starts to really fall away especially if you go over the great dividing range you head over sort of towards bathurst orange out towards dubbo connectivity really drops off but the cost of that connectivity goes the opposite direction it gets a lot more expensive so your normal just a small business can’t afford to have a dedicated pipe back into a data center facility in sydney yep um so they end up being out on the public networks and then you get congestion so you get latency becomes a serious issue so the whole concept of what we’re doing we’re putting data center facilities in these regional locations to service that local area we create a peering environment yeah so literally point to point through you know from your direct cloud connectivity perfect environment for 5g you’ve got things like iot massive explosion in data within the whole iot sector so it’s the ability to actually create that data process that data on the edge the results obviously using ai instant and you action on those those results just doesn’t make sense shipping all the data back to sydney no and i think newcastle always tends to be from a technology perspective a couple of years behind sydney and it is you can see a lot of a lot of companies locally starting to invest in cloud and some of the bigger companies uh much further along that journey than others but newcastle as a whole are investing in technology more and more data’s going to go up and up as you said newcastle from a smart cities perspective we it’s it’s definitely a play here absolutely newcastle’s won a couple of awards actually from a smart city’s perspective and it’s only going to continue to grow yeah no absolutely i mean you look at it from an enterprise perspective here in newcastle at the moment if they want to directly access the cloud they have to have a dedicated pipe back to sydney less expensive that costs a lot of money on a depending if you’re you know a 5 or a 10 gig link back to sydney doesn’t come cheaply so with with us launching the cloud direct cloud connectivity here in newcastle for the first time is an absolute game changer because literally next to the rack of your it infrastructure blue cable connects straight into your cloud of choice um and you don’t have to have that expensive pipe back to sydney so it’s an instant reduction in how much you took in reduction in telecommunications cost yeah it’s a game changer for newcastle i think i think it’s going to really enable a lot of companies locally to to definitely up their their technology presence and and their actual just their infrastructure in general um there’s more and more companies as i said starting to make that investment um and island continue to grow so i think that the timing is is really really great for newcastle itself well we’re actually working on a partner program at the moment and details will be released um in the near future but what we’re looking at doing is we’re we’re looking to work with the startup community and we’re looking to work with incubators and under certain criteria we’re happy to provide hosting for free for a period of time probably for the first year and then maybe 50 for the second year and then sort of into a normal hosting environment sort of year three really trying to sort of obviously give startups a help and a helping hand um to see if we can obviously get them from point a to point b create jobs um and really sort of empower that community 2.0 which i really like startup community for one newcastle has a growing startup a startup scene we’re definitely again not one of those those major cities around australia but i think we’ve invested well in startups and we’re starting to see a few of those i gained some reasonable traction in in the investment stage we’re starting to get where at least half a dozen companies have reasonable multi-million dollar rounds have have been raised in the past six months which is nice to see some some success coming absolutely i think the other part there that you mentioned is that supporting local supporting the local businesses that’ll feed really well in newcastle newcastle definitely likes to buy into companies that are supporting our region startups that are staying here to create jobs here as opposed to start up in newcastle then move to sydney and create jobs down there i think there’s a lot of passionate founders here in newcastle who are about building their businesses locally in newcastle creating jobs for locals and building their businesses here so i think what you’re doing will tying really well there and what a what a great place to build a business yeah it looks like you have a really strong talent pool here locally as well and i can see i mean i’ve seen some of the statistics of people leaving sydney to come and move to newcastle so i can’t imagine you have to try too hard to attract some really good talent yeah i think with cobra 19 it’s also tying into that as well there’s a lot of companies um that you know people had to be in sydney to to work on site day in day out and kobe 19 is creating a different different workplaces for everyone with working from home and flexible work hours and i think people are realizing you might not have to live in sydney forever now um you can move to newcastle uh obviously rent or mortgages um significantly cheaper and then you can live up here you can live a good lifestyle and either work locally here or work remotely to sydney so either way we’re bringing more talent back to the area which will be good for the long term sustainability of the technology environment i think you you just touched on something there before recovery 19. now obviously the beginning of this year none of us expected to be in a pandemic and covert 19 for us was it it just really highlighted the lack of infrastructure in regional locations everyone being forced to work from home children being educated from home during peak times you know traffic you know in the peak hour as in peak zoom call time networks were really um starting to slow down and we’ve got people on the ground in regional locations that were struggling to even make a zoom call and they were struggling 20 minutes trying to get a call out on telstra or out on optus so for us it really highlighted what we’re doing as in the reason you know what we’re the what we’re actually bringing to these regional locations so for uh from dealing with councils because we’re engaged at uh senior level across all regional councils now with where all of our sites are and it it helped us get this get the story across so people could actually understand the benefits that data center could actually bring to the region and it’s only going to be more so as as you know like there’s going to be more and more people from working from home um zoom’s becoming uh you know it’s something that just rolls off the tongue for people now video studio interviews video meetings is something that’s just becoming the new norm absolutely and that’ll happen in regional areas as well i think regional areas with remote working regional areas will become destinations for people to move as well and continue to do more and more work remotely which is gonna you know up that that data usage well every region where we’re working with every region has a plan to grow to 100 000 people as an example yeah now obviously if connectivity is dropping off a cliff compared to metro there’s a there’s a whole digital divide that’s been created and why would i go to live in a regional location if i was going to be as a disadvantage trying to build or run and operate a business yeah disadvant if i was disadvantaged to metropolitan sydney it just you know you’re operating with one hand type behind your back yeah and it’s definitely been i remember five years ago having discussions with startups around connectivity in newcastle talent in newcastle the different limiting factors that you know could could prevent them staying local and building a team locally and those are the things you need to sort of you need to check those boxes to make sure that yes it’s great to work in a regional town or build a business in a regional town but you’ve got to make sure that you’re not putting yourself at a disadvantage yeah no absolutely i think we’re seeing or we’re finding very strong interest as in we’ve got anchor tenants um contracting into our launch yeah we’ve got a lot of regional telcos because a telephone call or like a voice over ip if as an example you could be in orange make a call to someone in say parks but that call would go to dubbo nine times out of ten if it was going viral nbn goes to dubbo back to sydney back up to double and then to parks doesn’t make sense so it’s more about that point and point making that point to point as quick and short as possible is going to obviously improve quality speed and obviously makes it a lot more cost effective for that regional telco to actually switch the calls yeah nice there’s another point you mentioned earlier the second point i was i wanted to highlight was that creation of jobs i think uh definitely in newcastle leading edge data centers is going to create a number of jobs locally absolutely from a technology perspective but also with this build do you have any any data or any any numbers around how you’re going to be you know the amount of jobs that you might be creating in newcastle absolutely we’ve actually studied it um very in depth for this whole phase one across regional new south wales this is some information requested by new south wales treasury just recently so we’re creating 137 full-time equivalent roles over the first construction phase wow now obviously each center with all the new technologies being able to come in use that as a as the enablement platform as a springboard that can obviously create jobs create businesses and drive growth for the region so um we’re actually we’re actually doing a study at the moment to sort of really try and dig into how much you know how many jobs could be created for that reason we believe it’s actually going to be quite a large number yeah that’s nice and there’s no one other you know council should be getting behind this because that creation of jobs that is as you said it’s not only the initial creation of jobs through the building phase but it’s how many other businesses that you might enable in the future and then what that job growth looks like so i think it’s not only a great short term play but it’s a it’s a good longer term investment from a counselor’s perspective yeah no absolutely i think also sort of looking at these regional locations as i said we’re creating a peering environments in all of these regional locations we’re opening up new back call connectivity back into sydney so we’re opening up business grade back call into metro but the key is we’re actually connecting horizontally across new south wales so every data center will have multiple connection points so it’s really creating that meshed distributed compute environment which that’s the that’s the real key i mean edge compute there’s been a lot of discussion about edge compute over the last four or five years we’ve been watching um the uh progress over in the us europe south america and we’re very close to some of those um businesses over there so we’ve got we think we’ve got some really valuable insights as to where this is actually going and in fact there was there’s one network which i can’t actually mention the name but in in it’s over in south america the build has happened in rural and regional locations where there’s very little connectivity they’re using actually ran technology but what they’ve done they’ve made a mistake because they went and built the network and all of these different hubs in populations of 5 000 to 30 000 and what they found is they’ve run out of space because they were thinking they went with a mobile mentality thinking it was going to be the mobile networks but it’s turned out yes the mobile networks but they’ve also got cable they’ve got government they’ve got aws they’ve got microsoft they’ve got content all the content distribution companies so they’ve literally run out of space so they’re having to go back and re-build out further each of these hubs and i believe that’s a a classic example of regional what it’s almost like a vision of what is going to happen in in regional new south wales which is why the facilities that we’re building are quite large the 75 racks uh 375 kilowatts so they’re five five kilowatts average per rack but we’re running sort of inroad calling so you could have a really high density 20 kilowatt rack running next to a 2 kilowatt rack so we could have storage next to ai so it’s a very sort of flexible environment yeah i think that future proofing it sounds you know extremely intelligent way of operating and building right because regional australia is going to continue to catch up um or just in general technology is continuing to grow right whether we’re talking major cities or regional it’s only going to continue to grow um data needs ireland going to continue to grow at speed the expectation of speed um is continuing to grow i think it’s one of the one of the bug bears these times like one of the things that frustrates most people is just like it is that connectivity it’s such a small thing but it impacts people’s lives so significantly now can you just wind back in time a little bit do you remember a 3g device ah i remember trying to get a video on a 3g device it was all grainy and you had to wait ages for it and then 4g and the quality that we’re now getting on 4g we get to 5g that’s going to be an absolute game changer yeah so humans expectation is taking on another leap forward latency today is not a massive issue especially in newcastle it’s not a massive issue tomorrow will be a big issue things like virtual reality virtual reality used for commercial purposes or for even gaming um anything sort of below about four or five milliseconds you’re going to start to feel a bit queasy so four or five milliseconds is is not a long period of time so you need to have the compute very close by for that term for that to function correctly yeah i i think it’s exciting news for newcastle exciting news but other regional areas i think yeah as you said those other regional areas it’s going to really it’s going to be a game changer for them for that for the differences and just for them to you know have something that they can help enable growth there right this is a big story um and pretty big growth plans very aggressive growth plans on the speed how did it all come about for you um it was an idea it was an idea well i’ve been watching uh the whole edge phenomenon overseas and the growth of edge been watching it very closely for about three or four years yeah so about two years ago it was it got to the point where as okay this is this is time to uh to get serious um so we really kind of built out the plan really sort of focused on really focused on the business model to start with on the commercial aspects so kind of we reverse engineered what we wanted to create and we approached the data centers themselves with a very clear mind it was it’s not a hyperscale not a big hyper-scale thinking behind this and there’s a lot of tricks and smarts that we’ve sort of built into this um to create what we what we have done we have a pro we had to create a very flexible platform the technology was really important so we partnered with schneider electric from from our perspective schneider is really kind of the rolls royce of the industry there’s not many data centers globally that don’t have some element of schneider electric involved um so they’re building these prefabricated buildings in heather bray just up just up the road from here so it’s local manufacturing new south made in new south wales they get built in sections trucked out on a on large trucks crane craned on commissioned over a seven week period of time and then we bring in what we call a solar shield that sits over the top with solar and that feeds down straight into the batteries that gets consumed on site they look quite futuristic very quiet um we’ve got the chillers down the side and we’ve got uh two large generators as well so we’re running a full m plus one environment so we’re running it what’s called a a concur i can’t say the word here concurrent maintainable environment yeah that’s where effectively you could take take down any function of the power or the calling and you’ve also got another you’ve got another system working as well so you should not have any downtime so that’s what the tier three certification process is about yeah nice and that is okay right that is once again we’ve talked about frustrations having having your provider go down having non-access even if for a very short period of time it’s just it’s not acceptable any anymore it’s just it’s not acceptable um but if you’re running a business or if you’re small as an individual who can’t access uh can’t access the internet on your phone you know in a dead spot uh people just aren’t willing to accept that anymore and people are willing to pay more to have that you know that uptime and that connectivity absolutely and the there’s been a lot of frustration levels of late with covet 19 especially when the kids jump on they jump on youtube and it just takes the takes the uh the internet away for everybody else in the house yeah and again it’s only going to continue right well and people that say devices aren’t a good parenting thing well they maybe don’t have uh multiple kids running around at home i think our devices are you know are only continuing to grow whether it be from an educational perspective or an entertainment perspective nearly you know most people in a house have access to a device now and you can be running multiple devices within any one household and that’s when we’re talking a household level not at a business level when as you said there’s there’s a rise in that data we’re talking about you know uh higher high data needs whether we’re talking ar whether we’re talking vr or even just as basic as video the rise in video has been phenomenal and that’s continuing to rise so i think uh everything that you’re doing just ties into the challenges we’re facing i think just the move to 4k and then i moved to 8k the volume that that’s taking up is quite staggering so that the growth in video content um i think you know from a telecommunic from a carrier perspective um they’ve got some serious challenges to meet over the coming years yeah nice you’ve had to flip it and said what’s the biggest challenge for you as a business um but it’s still early days but what’s the biggest challenge so far that you’ve faced today biggest challenge for us um surprised me it was actually finding suitable land sites i was thinking okay we moved to regional there’s heaps of land but trying to find a block of land that’s out of flood plains and there’s a lot of flooding in these regional locations normally built around a river so you’ve got to be very careful in that respect you need fiber and there’s no point in just having one fiber run you want multiple fibers from multiple telcos so you’ve got to make sure your location you’re not bringing fibre any major distance because obviously your capex really starts to go through the roof and also power um obviously data centers need power i mean as a bare minimum we’re a thousand amps per site but some sites we’re up to sort of four or five thousand amps depending on where we see the scalability or what you know what what we actually see from the demand perspective and if you have to have a look at going forward if you have to try to predict the future what’s the biggest challenge for you guys going forward biggest challenge it’s really i mean the team has grown out significantly um we’ve got over 40 people now working on the entire project we’ve actually got a really solid team in place i’m very comfortable there it’s more the speed at the the speed and the pace of the of the rollout that we’re actually running it and it’s just sort of really we’ve got a a well-world machine now in the sense of it’s very templated so it’s cut paste the actual data centers each one is identical um so the literally sort of rolling off the production line our big sort of 75 rack facilities we’ve now got 11 of those as in pinpointed for locations we’ve got um we’ve got another design a 30 rack facility so obviously a little bit less than half the size but that’s going into other locations and we also have a small um eight rack facility as well which is um just going through the design process at the moment and that’s more for base station deployment um for content for 5g but that’s also to from a connectivity perspective that could be a a forward guard so to speak into certain locations so we can actually drive connectivity we’re actually setting up a proof of concept network as we speak so which should be live from tamworth newcastle sydney and there’s some other locations that will be built into that as well so that’ll be a proof of concept network that we’re just going to start to run some services on let some clients actually start to use that and just get used to it and just to see what sort of product sets yeah are developed that we can then facilitate obviously when the when the big facility comes in and us it’s nice to see you continually trying to innovate and continue to try to move forward not only what are you doing now but hey what what are you going to be building in the future what are people’s needs so it’s proof of concepts i like the idea it’s it’s funny i mean there’s no there’s no book for us to read as in how we do this hasn’t been done before so we are pushing the pushing the boundaries in in many ways but having the insight and having the relationships with um you know into the us and into europe with some of the edge more established edge companies over there has been very uh valuable very insightful we’ve you know fallen over a couple of times and skin down these but um that’s the nature of business exactly but we’re learning by mistakes so we’re making sure we don’t make the same same mistake again yeah nice yeah that is the nature of business and you continue to you know learn from those mistakes you get better and better that’s an exciting exciting future you’re obviously a busy man you’re you’re running a company growing company as you said up to 40 staff now very very aggressive roll-out plans with newcastle by november this year and then there’s going to be another another five locations within the five months after that how do you manage your day from a productivity perspective what’s how do you manage your day i get up really really early yeah no i’m always up up early um sort of around sort of 5 36 yeah and we’re you know normally in the office by 7 7 30. unfortunately in the office probably till 7 7 30 even 8 o’clock at times really sort of managing processes my role more now is more sort of dealing with government local government um obviously sort of engaging with councils i mean a lot of those relationships have been built now which is great so the wider team is sort of now out um you know sort of really focused on the actual rollout victoria was just starting to push into victoria although obviously with the covet 19 spike we’re just watching that very closely queensland as well that’s on the that’s on the horizon it’s not too far away so we’re already looking at a couple of sites up in queensland beyond there um asia i think i really think uh you know a couple years down the track i think our sort of sites will be sort of starting to really look into asia yeah so there’s big growth plans here so if we drill into this what’s the what’s the day look like right you see you get in the office early is it is a chunk out a bunch of emails that earlier in the day is a chunk out a bunch of time before other people get in and you you’re concentrating on core projects you do you chunk up your day into certain parts from a from a management perspective so if somebody’s listening to this hey here’s a guy who’s growing a big business or a growing business let’s call it pretty aggressively like how does somebody like yourself you know is there any tools or techniques that you use to stay productive i mean personally i try and get at least a dedicated hour on emails otherwise emails obviously just get out of control but just deal with the the pressing issues from a company tool perspective we use monday yeah now monday is fantastic when you get everybody to use it it’s the more you put into monday the more it gives back yeah but monday i found to be very successful it gives me visibility across the entire business and it gives everybody else visibility across whatever whatever else is doing so it’s it’s highly accountable yeah i like this um we use crm tool and it’s no different most other companies are the same thing from whether it be an organizational tool or crm tool a lot of them have more capability than you’ll ever use but it’s how how well you use that or how have you gone about getting everyone on boards everyone on board to be using that we have we have a pretty we have a very mature team on board they didn’t need a lot of coaxing it was more just this is the tool that we’re going to use and within a few days it was it was being populated and being heavily used now people have to use it to be functional yeah within the team so it’s worked out really well we’re also using as a crm tool we’re using hubspot yes which is yeah we’ve made a few alterations we started to sort of design or put more design thought behind hubspot but it’s it’s quite functional for the purposes at the moment at this stage they’re obviously really strong from a marketing perspective when you get to that stage in your business from a marketing automation tool um that’s great as you said um before you there’s no book on how to how to do this um you what you’re doing uh you know that you’re not just following a cookie cutter that somebody else has done before you is there any out if we go to the tangent of that is there any theories books podcasts pieces of content that you’ve you’ve consumed that you’ve found super valuable that you’d recommend to others so obviously it doesn’t have to be a like for like for what you’re about to do but sure any education that you’ve that you’ve consumed that you’ve found extremely valuable um there’s no specific education but all i can say is i mean if you’ve got challenges within your business really focus on that particular challenge and search content related directly to that and obviously consume content that you actually enjoy as well trying to consume a subject matter that you really haven’t got your head around is is not really gonna i don’t think last too too long up top no i agree and you know access to content is so really available these days absolutely and i think that’s okay as you said you’re not going to consume content and you’re not going to continue to learn if it’s not either in a format that you like or a topic that you like that’s what you’ve got that interest in so if you can find a ninja sarah an author you like i think it’s so much it’s so much easier to consume absolutely i mean any education that we do internally with with staff um fun just make it fun yeah you’ve got to have if you’re not having fun there’s not much point in in doing it that’s a kind of philosophy yeah so and it is and it is right we’re all getting paid to go to work and at the end of the day that you know that’s what most people go to work for to pay the bills and to provide for their lifestyle but if you can make it enjoyable at work it makes a a lot easier forever absolutely absolutely yeah mate thanks for your for your time today i found it very informative i’m excited to hear stories like this happening in newcastle i’m all about the newcastle technology scene growing and it sounds like what leading hdc is doing is going to enable more companies here either to start up here or actually enable their continual growth here so i’m excited about it i anytime anytime i’m here about this gross in newcastle it excites me so many thanks if people want to know a little bit more about you or about leading edge dc are you happy for them to reach out to you absolutely yep reach out directly and what’s the easiest way for people to reach out to you well firstly our website is leadingedgeddc.com yeah um or on email you can get me on email that’s chris.thorpe at leadingedgedc.com i think we’ll link that up in our show notes on our website so yeah you might get you might get a few people reaching out to find out a little bit more information about you know what you guys are doing so thanks again for your time today um i’m excited to see you know where this goes for you guys in the future and hopefully to see the continued growth of not only leading htc but newcastle technology scene no thank you thank you for the opportunity.