London — One sign that Africa's data markets are maturing is the rapid increase in the number of Level 3 certified data centres. A quarter of these data centres are carrier neutral, offering customers the ability to do a range of things that are vital as Africa's corporates go digital.
Russell Southwood spoke to Ayotunde Coker, Managing Director, Rack Centre, Nigeria's carrier neutral data centre, which got its Level 3 certification last month.
A year ago there were relatively few Level 3 data centres certified by the Uptime Institute on the continent. Now there are 12, of which 4 are carrier neutral: Millicom (Senegal); NPONE (Morocco); Rack Centre (Nigeria); ASA MSTelecom (Angola); BTCL (Botswana); Standard Bank, MTN and BCX (South Africa); East Africa Data Centre (Kenya); Mauritius Telecom and Bhumshiq Teleserve (Mauritius); and TEData Company (Egypt). This does not include Teraco' s 3 data centres in South Africa and that describes itself as a Level 3 contributor.
Ayotunde Coker's first job back in Nigeria was with Access Bank where he found himself building a data centre for the bank, which he said was a terrible distraction given all the power and skills issues. Roll forward to July 2014 and he was asked to come on board as Managing Director of Rack Centre.
Rack Centre is owned and operated by a major Nigerian conglomerate called Jagal, which has interests in oil and gas, property and health, hygiene and home products. Importantly for the Rack Centre project it had 20,000 sq metres of land that were comfortably above sea level.
"It's been a very, very interesting road. We have to have viable power generation and thorough systems for diesel delivery. We have a lab to check fuel quality and we check the time the truck takes from the depot to delivery."
It has two sets of 1.6 MW generators and has had 100% uptime since its launch in October 2013:"We will add gas power when our power needs get up to 2-2.5 MW in the next large phase of expansion."
There were 119 racks in the first phase but the business doubled between 2014-2015. There are now 255 racks that are operated by companies like carriers, banks, financial services, oil and gas, the Nigerian Sock Exchange and IXPN (which also has its regional IXP project there). Clients include BringCom, Vodacom Business, Access Bank and UBA. All this growth triggered a capacity expansion that went live in early 2016.
"The recession in Nigeria has flattened growth... People stopped doing anything in the election period and afterwards (as the economy tightened). But there may be surprising growth by the end of this year."
"It's truly carrier neutral and is the most highly connected Tier 3 data centre in Africa. There are 25 local carriers directly connected to it and we have connections to all five of the undersea cables. WIOCC is in Rack Centre along with Etisalat and Globacom and we connect to SAT3 through NTel. Every country on the Atlantic coast is connected to Rack Centre. It's half a billion people connected in 50 milliseconds."
The main competition in the market comes from Main One and mobile operator MTN and smaller facilities like 21st Century and Medallion Communications. Rack Centre is a top-of-the-range facility and in a market where price is often the key determining factor, clients sometimes choose a Volkeswagen over a Lexis.
"Microsoft and Amazon are looking at their cloud footprint in Africa. Cloud is a grand, overarching term for heterogeneous cloud service. We don't do them ourselves but host others that do. We're talking to Akami and we're an ideal location for implementation by them... We're also in the advanced stage of discussions with international banks."
Microsoft's recent announcement that it will deliver its cloud services directly in Africa shows which way the market is headed. As Microsoft said at the launch of these services:" It's a recognition of the enormous opportunity for digital transformation in Africa".
When he arrived at Rack Centre, he discovered that its website was hosted outside Nigeria and now it's hosted in their data centre and they have two suppliers who do hosting there.
So is he looking at expansion into other parts of Africa?:"The brand is recognized well enough to stretch it across the region... Possibly in a Francophone country. In the data centre business it's all about track record and trust. You have to have these to persuade people to put their IT assets with you. It takes time to build those things plus the know-how