Good grief – it’s a British hardware manufacturer

Nick Booth finds that rare thing - a British hardware manufacturer - and wonders just what the future holds for Cannon Technologies

Britain’s computer makers have seriously struggled in the last three decades. Any firms that has actually thrived in that time must be indestructible.

Britain’s manufacturing output remains well below its pre-recession level, according to the latest official figures, and the financial sector catalysed the process of de-industrialisation crisis, killing thousands of weaker manufacturers.

Who knows, maybe this banking-led cull will help the stronger players to emerge. In the IT hardware sector, there are barely any UK manufacturers left.

One of the few success stories is Cannon Technologies but, being an engineering-led company, it couldn’t be accused of being the most gung-ho self promoters in the business. That could change, because it’s now looking for sales partners, so maybe this is your chance to make a fortune out of this unexploited gold.

There are two ways of describing what Cannon Technologies product does. You could try and read one the latest baffling tech spec leaflets, which lists the PDU, PUE, DX cooling and N+1 redundancy of the new Globe Trotter modular data centre.

Or, if you haven’t got time for that – and I must admit it takes me hours to understand some of their press releases – you can get an instant feel for want the do by going on Youtube. 

Search for “Taliban Gets blown Up” and you’ll see Afghan footage filmed by drones or the head cameras of the Royal Marine Commandos. The bezillions of hours of footage are condensed, encrypted and transported on comms equipment that Cannon has adapted for this harsh environment. They were then stored, in Cannon’s modular data centres, on freezing mountain tops and in the sweltering dust bowl that is Camp Bastion.

That’s what Cannon has been doing for three decades now. It makes equipment that can survive in any environment, be it on a Norwegian oil rig, the Saudi heat or the wrong types of leaves on Network Rail. 

It makes all the specialized casing and reconfigures all the equipment to be housed in it (often re-jigging the standard manufacturer’s setting for, say, a cooling unit) in its factory in New Milton, Hampshire. It has to because creating the kit that can work in extreme conditions is a specialized task.

It’s arguable that Cannon invented the ‘pre-fabricated’ data centre, since it has been supplying ruggedized comms equipment to the Army, mining and oil industry for over 30 years. The problems that IBM, HP and Huawei are encountering with cooling these high density computing units were first tackled by Cannon Technologies’ designers decades ago.

Cannon makes indestructible data centre shells (out of purpose built shells) and fills them with shock proof racks of servers, comms units, coolers and everything else you’d find in a data centre. They’re designed to withstand forces up to 10G, and special brackets can absorb and nullify the vibrations caused by tectonic shifts. Neither earthquakes, sand storms, baking sun and Taliban bullets have made an impression on these machines.

They can be pre-built and pre-configured to the Nth degree, so that they are so easy to install that the soldiers of the Royal Signals were able to detach and install the entire system in three minutes. (That’s the amount of time that can be allowed for a helicopter delivery of a Data center in Afghanistan. Any longer and an Al Qaeda terrorist could assemble and fire a rocket launcher at the delivering helicopter.)

So Cannon is brilliant at inventing things. It pioneered the modular data centre, years ahead of Colt, and created a ‘clam shell design’ which aggregates two data units into one with a much bigger facility. It’s so simple, they say, that soldiers can put the facility together in the middle of a sand storm.

Like many companies run by engineers, however, they are not that great at blowing their own trumpet. New sales manager Gill Worthington wants the company to be better at communicating and working with teams. Which is where the channel could come in.   

Rugged, reliable comms equipment, that is simple to install and manage, will be in massive demand as the Internet of Things grows.

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