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Driving Digital Transformation in Africa through data centres

Driving Digital Transformation in Africa through data centres

Data CentresDigital TransformationFacilities & ServersMiddle EastTop Stories

Demand for data centre services in Africa is on the rise, driven by improving connectivity levels and rising data traffic volumes amongst its large ‘digital native’ market. Robert Mullins, Executive Director of First Brick Holdings, tells us how this rise in data centre developments is providing the necessary environment to transport data at scale in the region, which in turn is driving demand for digital content, mobile money, cloud services and more.

With continued and sustained growth in Internet penetration and connectivity, some of the foundations begin to be in place for a deeper and more meaningful Digital Transformation in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile penetration reached 44% in 2018, catalysing an uptake in demand for data for both business and personal use.

With 41% of the population under the age of 15, the region is also home to a market of digital natives hungry for modern technological services – this, combined with the availability of increasingly affordable smartphones and mobile data plans, means demand for all things digital in the region is on the rise. 

Building data centres that can cope with these rising requirements is critical to driving this Digital Transformation. With new technologies such as IoT, cloud and content delivery networks fuelling both consumer and business demand for high-velocity, high-availability services, a more localised IT and data infrastructure is essential.

Modern data centres in Africa will not only help meet these needs, but also serve as hubs to connect the region to the wider global data economy; facilitating economic and social development.

Despite the dramatic rise in both terrestrial and mobile connectivity over the past 10 years, broader Digital Transformation in Africa has been largely stymied by a lack of adequate data centre infrastructure.

Existing infrastructure is not equipped to cater to ever-growing server space, power and cooling requirements. By building a modern, state-of-the-art data centre infrastructure, Africa can benefit not only from improved digital services, but also significant socioeconomic growth.

The role of data centres in economic and social growth

The economic value of the Internet in Africa is unsurprisingly strong, with research from McKinsey claiming that the Internet can increase productivity in the continent for a multitude of sectors, including education, healthcare, financial services, agriculture, retail and government. According to the Internet Society, the Internet contributes to 3.7% of developed countries’ GDP on average. In African countries, however, this lies at just 1.1%.

Building and utilising local data centres is vital to boosting this figure and driving economic growth. For instance, the Internet Society identifies a lack of local content infrastructure and content delivery networks (CDN) as a key barrier to achieving wider Internet use. Hosting content in local data centres significantly reduces the latency and cost of content delivery, which will ultimately improve its accessibility for local communities. Capitalising on opportunities such as these is vital as the mobile CDN market is set to become a major driver of data traffic growth in Africa, with CDN traffic predicted to exceed 70% of total online traffic in the next five years. 

A growing colocation data centre market will also facilitate job creation and cultivate local partners, such as cloud service and other third-party service providers who will be able to deliver higher quality, more reliable services to their customers from within modern data centres. For instance, new data centres in South Africa alone are predicted to create over 100,000 jobs .

As demand for data centres rises, data centre operators will inevitably require more staff and create more IT training programmes; a particularly promising prospect when considering Africa’s youthful population will directly cause GDP to grow by 11% to 15% over the next decade, by which time they will have entered working age. Additionally, with the advent of Edge Computing and hybrid cloud, there will be demand for specialised IT skills, in turn bringing a number of highly skilled, well-paid jobs to the region.

Choosing the right data centre for your business

As the popularity of new technologies such as IoT and cloud continue to grow amongst African consumer and business markets, data centre operators are racing to satisfy these new demands. While data centre modernisation can facilitate greater IT agility and lower costs, building a data centre is no easy feat. 

Businesses should look to cost-effective and flexible alternatives, for instance housing hardware in colocation facilities, or renting from a cloud hosting provider. Outsourcing will allow businesses to not only get their services up and running faster but will also require less upfront investment.

There are various factors that local African businesses should consider when choosing to build or purchase space in a data centre.

Selecting a local colocation data centre facility or provider that is close to key customer markets ensures that they will benefit from low latency connectivity, in turn helping to create a consistent regional service that meets market demand and satisfies customer needs. Additionally, choosing a data centre that is close to a business hub facilitates ease of access; allowing business owners to visit their IT environment, supervise staff and keep a close eye on their operations. 

Power and network accessibility is another critical aspect when selecting a data centre, and will serve as the foundation of a reliable operating environment. While the location of a data centre will rely upon factors such as access to power grids, businesses should also consider the redundancy of the systems that data centre operators have put in place.

To ensure stable connectivity and continuous uptime, businesses should look to data centres that guarantee minimal downtime, for instance Tier III colocation facilities. Built to satisfy redundancy and concurrent maintainability requirements, Tier III data centres are designed to ensure a maximum level of availability. Selecting a data centre with these capabilities is particularly critical for businesses who run high-velocity, high-availability operations and will help them to avoid financial losses and reputational damage during power outages. 

Opting for a carrier-neutral, colocation data centre facility also allows local businesses to interconnect with other networks, including those of partners, distributors, government entities or even competitors for peering. This is particularly important when considering the emergence of new technologies in Africa, where businesses must be agile enough to adapt to a changing environment.

By colocating in a data centre environment where other partners can readily provide state-of-the-art services businesses can gain the IT agility needed to cope with the demands of Africa’s growing and evolving digital economy.

When economic growth in the region is integrated with parallel trends in digitalisation and content consumption, data usage and its associated storage requirements will inevitably continue to rise. Developing modern, state-of-the-art local data centre infrastructure is vital to creating a reliable operating environment for businesses to deliver increasingly sophisticated digital services and a key enabler to facilitate this continued Digital Transformation across the region.

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