Developing data centres for Africa in preparedness for pandemics like COVID -19

Developing data centres for Africa in preparedness for pandemics like COVID -19

The global digital evolution has just been put into overdrive by COVID-19 as locked-down nations are forced to accelerate the shift online, driving a massive spike in data needs. Microsoft Teams has reached 44 million daily users and Zoom users exploded to 200 million in March from a 10 million previous maximum, as the share price rocketed 41% over 2 months since 16 February 2020. Matthew Renshaw, Chief Operating Officer of pan-African construction solutions company Profica, says that as businesses and even entire economies play rapid catch-up, the current pandemic challenge is throwing the need for local infrastructure to provide rapid, high-availability data centre services in Africa into sharp relief.

“Countries across the African continent now have to leapfrog when it comes to evolving technologies and we will continue to see rapid growth in data-hungry new technologies, including the accelerated roll-out of Broadband, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, 5G and the Internet of Things,” says Renshaw. “As businesses continue to harness new technologies, they need to have the right supporting infrastructure in place. The ability to rapidly adapt and implement, as well as operate and secure business-critical data enables businesses to survive shocks to the economy, with the data centre at the core of this.”

Profica has geared up with specialist partners, CBRE and their Data Centres team based in Europe, to increase expert project delivery services for data centres in Africa. Profica’s senior managers have experience in delivering ICT and data centre projects for major brands including Vodacom, CISCO, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Ericsson and Google. “Even before COVID-19, data centres had been identified as the next real growth opportunity across our continent. They are a critical part of the infrastructure required to grow knowledge economies. Setting up robust, future-proof infrastructure requires specialist expertise from the outset and we are well positioned to deliver across Africa,” says Renshaw.

Untapped markets

Multinational and African-based investors will continue to respond to the burgeoning opportunity for data centre providers, highlights Renshaw. “Even with economic growth severely constrained, several data centres have already been constructed, and this should continue in key regional hubs.”

White says that the demand for cloud services will drive further data centre expansion across Africa, with spending predicted to grow to R11.53 billion in 2022 according to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in South Africa. According to Jan Hnizdo, MD of Teraco, South Africa leads the continent with 59 data centres, followed by Nigeria and Kenya with 10 each. “We expect to see strong demand for hosting capacity in data centres across the continent. Key hubs, including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, are well positioned to be regional growth centres, but investors need clear guidance in these economies that can function very differently from Western markets,” says Renshaw.

Providers of connectivity and cloud solutions are stepping up to facilitate growth. Subsea cable owner and IP-MPLS network operator Seacom will double the traffic-carrying capacity of its subsea cable systems in 2020, reaching 3TB. Facebook will be implementing its own Africa cable system, Simba, and Google’s Equiano cable will connect Africa with Europe.

The Converged Data Centre development model

Now in its fifteenth year, Profica’s many years of Advisory and Project Management experience in African markets, combined with CBREs specialist data centre experience, enables Profica to add value across the full lifecycle of a data centre development project, including consulting, site selection, development and project management, technology workload migration, and disposition of facilities. Profica supports CBRE in offering a Converged Data Centre model across Africa, which includes the integrated offering of technology and facilities management as well as advisory services.

Already an established provider,CBRE delivers technology services to over 30 enterprise, colocation and hyperscale clients and provides facilities management services to over 800 data centres worldwide. CBRE’s Global Workplace Solutions business now manages data centre technology, physical infrastructure and data centre facilities. The technology scope of services within CBRE’s data centre solutions group spans vendor-agnostic strategic consulting, such as cloud migration strategy and planning, data centre planning and fit-out, technical implementation and support, hardware maintenance, data destruction and asset recycling.

“Our converged model provides a way to tie business-critical IT and mission-critical facilities together within one value-stream-based funding model,” said Jim Harding, President of CBRE Global Workplace Solutions (GWS). “This ultimately will help our clients be more competitive and achieve their digital transformation priorities.”

A need to co-locate

Mobile network operators and local companies have dominated the African datacentre market to date. Now, global hyper-scale cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft Azure, Oracle and Google are challenging the status quo as they need more Africa-based data centres to grow their offerings on the continent.

The colocation model, where a datacentre provider hosts several enterprise and even hyperscale clients, is set to dominate as companies turn to data centre operators to manage the complex IT infrastructure, connectivity and increased data processing required by new technologies in a proprietary facility, rather than building their own enterprise facilities, according to Renshaw. “Colocating makes financial sense, as well as facilitating scalability. The colocation data centre market in Africa will see growth driven by the need for cloud services and the need to provide storage, data and networking to many more users. For Africa, the planning of data centres needs to consider flexibility and modular options to flex with the changing environments.”

The Digital Economy Report 2019 from UNCTAD shows that 80% of colocation data centres are in developed countries, while Africa and Latin America together account for less than five percent. According to 451 Research, Africa is currently only served by about 150 colocation datacentres, leaving major scope for more.

Renshaw believes that building data centres is a critical part of Africa’s digital transformation, now accelerated by the global pandemic. “Continued investment in critical data centre services will ensure that we can continue to function in the virtual world and work to turn our economies around. In Africa, as with the rest of the world, nothing has a greater potential to transform societies than technology. Together with CBRE, Profica is committed to being part of this.”


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