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Datacentre operators look to Africa for new co-location growth opportunities

Data sovereignty concerns and a growing digital economy are fuelling demand for new datacentres in Africa, say analysts and operators

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Growing demand for locally-hosted content and IT services has prompted an uptick in interest from overseas co-location providers in building facilities in Africa, it is claimed.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Steve Wallage, managing director of datacentre-focused analyst house Broadgroup, said investor and operator interest in the region is rising steadily, on the back of legislative changes and other economic pressures affecting the region.

“Nigeria, like a lot of countries in the world, is bringing in content laws, which will effectively put a lot of pressure on datacentre and cloud providers to have a physical presence in the region,” he said.

“There are also power supply issues, which actually makes it a lot harder to manage your own datacentre. If you’ve got a third-party co-location facility that not only has a specialisation, but also its own power supply, that’s a major advantage.”

In terms of market maturity, Wallage said parts of Africa are two to three years behind the European market. For example, there is still a relatively high number of large corporations operating their own private datacentres.

“A lot of large organisations have low-quality datacentres of their own or a little server room somewhere, because – as you often find in newer markets – it’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” he said.

“The reason they’re not outsourcing their IT to a co-location provider is because there aren’t many in the region of high enough quality.”

This is another reason why investors and datacentre operators are now looking to Africa as a new area of untapped growth potential for the co-location market, he said.

So much so that Broadgroup has introduced a separate stream of events for investors and operators interested in Africa at its annual Datacloud Europe event in Monaco, which takes place in June 2016.

“The big question for a lot of them is where to build,” said Wallage. “Do you build in Libya, Morocco, Tunisia – or Marseille, where the cables land?

“Places like Milan and Malta have always done well with markets like Libya, because, up to now, a lot of effort has gone into meeting some of this datacentre demand more effectively from another market.”

Continental connections

Co-location provider Interxion acquired datacentres in Marseille for €45m in August 2014, which has enabled it to tap into the growing demand for datacentre capacity in Africa, as the site is close to where the undersea cables serving Africa, the Middle East and beyond come ashore.

Doug Loewe, vice-president for international markets at Interxion, told Computer Weekly that with two more cables serving Africa, Asia and the Middle East soon, Marseille is a good location for operators that want to serve those countries without building a facility there.

“The Marseille asset has been transformed into a hub, and allows companies to put up their caching nodes or their computer nodes for social media applications or for the public cloud platforms,” he said.

“It also allows us to serve Africa from a relatively stable, robust location in Marseille without needing to have their applications sit in locations that are either economically unstable  or suffering from civil strife and other instability.”

Read more about datacentre investment trends

But although serving up content from other overseas locations to Africa may solve the problem in the short term, it is fair to assume that users will want in-country hosting and support in the long run, Wallage added.

“If you look at the top 10 websites in Nigeria, bar one of them, they are all basically US companies – the Googles, the Facebooks, and so on, and a lot of them are being served out of Dublin,” he said. “So if you’re in Nigeria, all your data and support will be coming out of Dublin.

“Over time, they might try to move some of that to Marseille or wherever to meet that demand, but, clearly, in the long term it is better to have that datacentre in Nigeria.”

At the moment, some co-location providers are trying to emulate the Equinix colocation model, in which the focus is on carrier-neutral facilities, while modular datacentre builds are also proving popular, said Wallage.

“One of the big problems in trying to build a datacentre in Nigeria, for example, is that not only do you have challenges around securing local expertise to build it, and the heat, you’ve also got all the issues around corruption and building permits,” he said.

“So if they get the module built by whoever and then shipped in, it’s so much quicker and easier for them to build out space.”

Modular designs

IO operates modular datacentres in Slough, New Jersey and Singapore, the components for which are designed and produced by its sister company, Baselayer.

Andrew Roughan, IO business development manager, said Baselayer’s designs are proving popular in emerging markets, with enterprises viewing them as a quick and easy way to get on top of the rising demand for online services and content within their countries.

“The business is starting to emerge on different fronts around the globe, including Africa, the Middle East and some of the less developed areas of Asia Pacific, because the phenomenal data consumption and growth patterns we are seeing around the globe are present in those markets too,” he told Computer Weekly.

“There is also a need for in-country datacentre assets, as a lot of these areas have latched on to the fact that there are far-reaching socio-economic and political implications associated with not knowing where your data is or what type of data protection regulations need to be applied to it.”

The standardised, off-the-shelf nature of modular designs means they can help enterprises in emerging markets that are feeling the competitive pressure from their rivals in more developed countries.

“If you can buy an off-the-shelf product, and you have reference cases of where else in the world it has gone, it gives the buyer much more confidence that they will meet their goals,” said Roughan.

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