Unlike some of the data centre providers that we’ve reviewed on these pages, Node4 is still relatively small. It has just three data centres, located in Northampton, Derby and Leeds, and dedicated space in a fourth in Slough. It targets the small and medium enterprise market, and focuses on being flexible enough to meet the needs of this client group. It currently provides managed services, colocation and cloud, but appears to have ambitious plans to expand its service offering.
Expertise in building data centres
Node4 has built its own data centres, rather than taking over premises from other organisations or providers. This means that it has been able to specify its own requirements, and build to high standards of infrastructure and security. All its sites meet the requirements for ISO27001 accreditation, on information security, and they all have perimeter fencing, 24/7 manned security, CCTV, and photo ID. Two, in Northampton and Leeds, also have an anti-tailgating pod. All of them have onsite support and remote ‘hands and eyes’.
Node4’s data centres are quite different sizes. Slough is the biggest facility, with 226,042 square feet of space, and 7000 racks, and Derby is the smallest, at 6,500 square feet and 330 racks. Their power and cooling systems are all different too, but all have full concurrent maintainability. Node4’s customers include the University of Nottingham, Watford Football Club, and Volkswagen Parkway, suggesting that it is indeed able to cater flexibly for very different customers.
Management changes and expansion plans
Node4 has been operating since 2004, and was the subject of a management buyout in May 2013, backed by private equity firm Lloyds Development Capital. At that stage, it had an annual turnover of around £13m, and employed more than 60 staff. One of the two co-founders, the managing director Andrew Gilbert, remained a significant shareholder, but the deal allowed the other co-founder to bow out.
The buyout was designed to accelerate the company’s growth through acquisitions and expanding data centre space. Since then, Node4 has acquired two companies, LETN Solutions last year, and most recently, Reconnix. LETN’s areas of expertise were cloud, managed services and storage. Reconnix’s specialty is managed services for cloud infrastructure, together with open source projects, app development and app support. Its acquisition will strengthen Node4’s expertise in cloud, and allow it to expand its Platform as a Service offering.
But Node4 is not just expanding through acquisitions. It is also developing its own service offering. Last September, it announced the launch of a cloud-based file share and sync platform for small and medium enterprises. Designed to rival Dropbox and similar offerings, the platform has a range of capabilities sought by SMEs.
The platform, called File Sync and Share, can be used to share files internally and externally. It is centrally managed through a web-based portal run by administrators who set access rights and permissions. They can also set time limits on projects, and clean off synced information from devices.
What all this means is that it is designed to be more secure than the alternatives, because it allows businesses to retain control over their data. As more and more people start to use their own devices at work, information is spread far beyond the physical confines of an organisation. This platform allows businesses to monitor its use more carefully and ensure that the data is safe. It is therefore idea for sensitive information.
Commentators pointed out that the move was bold at a time when the market was becoming increasingly competitive. Dropbox, Box and Microsoft have all moved away from a position that they offer cloud storage, and towards being ‘collaboration hubs’. They have also made price cuts, and they all have deep pockets. Node4 seems to be gambling on the fact that, according to research from Docurated, 77% of enterprises still use on-premises file servers as their primary storage point, and that there is therefore plenty of room for market expansion.
A growth strategy, but some challenges
Data centres are without doubt a growth industry, but it’s still challenging to expand from four to becoming a world-class player. It’s not clear whether Node4 has ambitions in this direction, or whether it simply wishes to be bigger and better than its current position. Its recent acquisitions and launches suggest that it might have a plan in mind, but it’s hard to see exactly how it will play out. Whatever the result, Node4 looks like one to watch.