Seven things to know about datacentre deployment in Africa
Data Center

Seven things to know about datacentre deployment in Africa

Datacentres are the foundation of the IT pyramid. A strong network of these allows organisations to deliver the other core pillars of IT: networks, servers and software. Yet the chronic lack of datacentres means the majority of African data [the figure 80% has been repeatedly bandied about but I haven’t found a source for it] is stored outside the continent.

These issues were discussed in depth as part of Invest in Datacentre Africa a bespoke summit collocated within Datacloud Europe 2017. This included panel discussions, roundtables and individual talks and the summary below was gleaned through the course of the day’s event.

Cost: There are several ways to mitigate financial constraints. The first is public private partnerships (which gets talked about a lot in African IT). The second is other strategic partnerships. The total cost of ownership can also be greatly reduced through co-investment in datacentres, suggests Frederic Bouchez, director of innovation and marketing at Etix. This is a model where the facility is not wholly owned by anyone but is 50/50 shared.

Cybercrime: “The minute you build a datacentre you become a target for cybercriminals,” suggests Peter Alfred-Adekeye, CEO and CTO at Multiven. He believes local factors can make this worse in Africa.

Unique market conditions: The physical aspects of building a datacentre anywhere in the world are relatively similar, says Ross Macdonald, principal at Etix Everywhere. The difficulty is understanding the local market. “We haven’t seen the large players in Africa even though everyone knows it is an opportunity [because it is so difficult],” he adds.

Datacentre skills: There is a lack of sustainable skills in the local space and Lee Smith, director of South African training company DS believes “governments don’t understand the datacentre market enough to do anything about it”.

Power (especially when an estimated 600 million live off grid): The lack of a reliable grid power supply is hardly ideal for a thriving datacentre space but solar power is beginning to take off and the challenge means there is plenty of opportunity. At present, most utility providers do not have the capability to accept power back which means there is no way (or incentive) to return un-needed power. Smith feels this is a “no brainer”. Macdonald take it a step further as he believes in the future datacentres will become power providers in themselves. While Alfred-Adekeye sees it as a chance for entrepreneurs to take the issue on and add solar panels to every roof in Lagos and Nairobi.

Strategic growth: Starting anything from the ground up, across a continent, is never going to be easy and Macdonald believes in order to grow the volume of datacentres strategically the operation needs to be approached via regional hubs. This would entail building initial centres in the South (South Africa), East (Nigeria or Ghana) and West (Kenya or Uganda) and growing a wider footprint out from these regional nodes.

Data sovereignty: “The level of maturity in data sovereignty has a long way to go in Africa,” suggests Smiths and with any number of legislative issues across the continent there is also no easy way to enforce it. Sadly, as long as this remains an issue, the African datacentre business will remain hampered in how far it can progress.

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Kathryn Cave

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Adrian Schofield on June 12 2017

I am a little bit surprised that the 7 things to know were predominantly negative about Africa as a home for datacentres. Of course, Africa has lacked the investment made in other regions but it is nowhere near as incapable of hosting data centres as these "quotes" would suggest. There are many successful data centres already in operation and I know of two major multinationals about to open more. They are obviously in conversations with governments who do understand the value of such installations. Skills are available. Any economy with a high unemployment rate has thousands of people willing to learn new work practices and build careers. Yes, there are "four corners" in Africa that work hard to attract new investment but we should not ignore the smaller economies, which have stable politics and reliable infrastructure.

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Kathryn Cave on June 13 2017

Hi Adrian, Thanks for the comment - you make a very valid point. This should probably have been titled “challenges” or “obstacles” rather than things to know. Best, Kathryn

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Adrian Schofield on June 12 2017

I am a little bit surprised that the 7 things to know were predominantly negative about Africa as a home for datacentres. Of course, Africa has lacked the investment made in other regions but it is nowhere near as incapable of hosting data centres as these "quotes" would suggest. There are many successful data centres already in operation and I know of two major multinationals about to open more. They are obviously in conversations with governments who do understand the value of such installations. Skills are available. Any economy with a high unemployment rate has thousands of people willing to learn new work practices and build careers. Yes, there are "four corners" in Africa that work hard to attract new investment but we should not ignore the smaller economies, which have stable politics and reliable infrastructure.

no-images

Kathryn Cave on June 13 2017

Hi Adrian, Thanks for the comment - you make a very valid point. This should probably have been titled “challenges” or “obstacles” rather than things to know. Best, Kathryn

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