The data centre at the crossroads of Africa

stephane duproz

Colocation data centres offer enormous benefits compared to in-house operations: access to critical skills, cost efficiencies, and an interconnected ecosystem of related businesses.

The nature of the data centre is changing, as an increasing number of businesses opt out of focusing on an aspect of their business that – while critical – is not part of their core competencies.

This has led to the rise of the co-location data centre, owned and operated by specialist data centre providers. In these centres, organisations have their own server rooms, separate and secured from each other, but have a much greater richness of connectivity and suppliers that they can connect to.

Stephane Duproz, CEO of Africa Data Centres, explains the shift from on-premise to colocation as being similar to owning a house – where, as the owner, you are responsible for security, repairs, improvements and everything else – and then moving to a rented townhouse in a complex. With the latter, the landlord is there to take care of most issues, security is better and you not only have your own space, but it is easier to make connections with your neighbours, should you wish to.

“With a colocation approach, you can rest assured that the large data centre organisations do this far better than any enterprise for whom the data centre is not their core business. The shift is also being driven by the fact that many companies that have on-premise data centres are now faced with ageing infrastructure. They are thus realising that instead of renewing such a significant investment, they can hand it over to a professional data centre operator, that will be able to do it better,” he says.

“In today’s fast-paced world, rapid time to market demands that a business co-operates with other organisations. When you are situated under the same roof like other companies that can complement what you are doing, interconnecting your businesses becomes a simple matter. Moreover, this can be achieved without the addition of significant costs, as would be the case if it was an in-house data centre.”

Duproz adds that the richness of the interconnected ecosystem enables customers to grow and increase their business. A colocation operation makes this type of ecosystem easy to put together, and if customers are successful, they grow their IT infrastructure and thus grow with the data centre operator.

“Of course, it should be noted that any customer using such a data centre maintains complete control over their own IT infrastructure. In effect, it is the same as having an in-house operation, except that it is hosted elsewhere, and is even more secure.”

He suggests that the pandemic highlighted how important and critical IT is for a business, along with the need to place the data centre in an environment where the IT systems are easily accessible through a wide range of networks. The increasing demand placed on networks and systems due to so many employees working from home has also demonstrated how vital it is for latency to be optimised, as low latency is crucial to this new way of working.

“Of course, data centre operators are aware that some customers do not have people on the ground – this is quite typical for international enterprises that may not have local employees – and can deliver a managed services offering. This means the operator does everything for them, from accepting delivery of and installing their servers to providing the skills needed to get them up and running and keep them that way.”

Explaining the importance of colocation data centres for the African continent, Duproz says that if one visualises the Internet as if it were roads and businesses like stores, then the most successful businesses would be those situated at the key crossroads. These colocation centres are always sited at key crossroads, which means an enterprise within it would be in a position to move forward in whatever direction best suits them.

“Remember that with real estate, the key phrase is: ‘location, location, location’. With large data centre operators, it is, of course: ‘colocation, colocation, colocation’. A crossroads is thus chosen based on a country’s GDP, its growth and the maturity of its enterprise market, as well as population size, levels of technical capability, regulations and IT traffic. This is why the key regions for colocation centres on the continent are South Africa, Kenya (covering East Africa) and Nigeria, which is the crossroads for West Africa.”

“For me, the future for Africa is bright, as I believe we will witness the increasing collaboration between African businesses situated within these colocation data centres. Increasing collaboration coupled with being situated at a key electronic crossroads will provide the springboard for significant growth, not only for these businesses but for the broader national economies as well,” concludes Duproz.

Rodney Weidemann