• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Nationalism must change Nigeria’s Data Centre Landscape 

Data-Centre

 

 

Prior to the Snowden leaks, few nations paid particular attention to data privacy issues; so long as data was reasonably secure and accessible wherever it was domiciled. Following revelations by Snowden and Wikileaks of the surveillance programmes by the United States National Security Agency (NSA), efforts to keep data within national borders have gained traction globally. The exposés of widespread electronic spying by United States intelligence agencies has combined with personal data privacy issues to produce fervent calls to store data domestically. Governments across the world have adopted stringent measures to ensure data sovereignty: Russia requires personal information to be stored domestically; the Australian government places restrictions on health data leaving the country, while Brazil and Vietnam insist on a local copy of all data involving nationals. Indignant at the Snowden disclosures, many government leaders have cited foreign surveillance as an argument for data localization.

Indeed, in a 2014 report, a leading IT research Company – Gartner – stated that nationalism would be one of four disruptive factors that would force a shift in the data services market by the end of 2016. According to Joe Skorupa, the firm’s Vice President, the trend suggested that consumers would begin to view large multinational data service solutions providers as being untrustworthy and this perception would be the catalyst to ensure a shift in-country. Already, this is a major trend across Europe.

 

So, where does Nigeria stand? The data services industry in the country has enjoyed significant investments over the years as foreign conglomerates have joined local corporates to provide services in this highly sensitive industry. The reason for this is simple – in today’s information age, successful businesses thrive on data. At no time in the history of human-kind has data – the ability to source, collate, archive, share and secure it – been so crucial to commerce.

 

This trend has put a burden on nations as their sovereignty is no longer confined to physical borders – governments must now proactively put measures in place towards ensuring security, even as a new generation of technology-savvy individuals come up with new techniques and structures to manipulate data to their own ends opening a new front in the race for global dominance among governments, corporations and individuals all of whom have experienced breaches in their data systems. The list of data breaches are almost endless – Sony Pictures Entertainment, European Central Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Korean Medical Association, – cutting across public and private sectors that compromised infrastructure, institutions and services.

Nigeria has not been spared – in recent years, official websites of the federal government and various ministries have been compromised by hackers. The country’s corporate sector has also been targeted by cyber terrorists stealing data used to perpetuate cyber-fraud.

Today, seven countries including Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda have data protection legislative bills in place. This is the sensible thing to do – with an estimated population of 1.1 billion people, experts project that the African continent’s data service market value is enormous when taken into context – Europe, with a population of 704 million people, has its data service market – specifically the personal information side of it – potentially valued at €1trillion by year 2020. These figures have financial experts asking a key question; “who are the people really benefiting here?”

Experts say a big part of it depends on where the data is being hosted. In Nigeria, as in Africa generally, most institutions both public and private primarily host their data off-shore meaning that governments and businesses pay foreign companies for this service. Translation – local economies lose money that would otherwise fuel growth and create jobs to offshore data centre services providers.

Nigeria, with a population over 170 million, has a huge data service market which is growing at an exponential rate and as such, it is imperative for the country to implement and enforce data protection and privacy legislations. There is already sound infrastructure on ground to support the government’s efforts what with five certified data centres in the country – one Tier II data centre operated by Etisalat and four Tier III data centres operated by Galaxy Backbone, MainOne’s MDXi, MTN and Rack Centre.

Of the five facilities, three are foreign owned – Etisalat, MTN and Rack Centre – and two are locally owned – Galaxy Backbone is owned by the Nigerian government while MDXi is owned by Nigerians. Some economists argue that businesses operating in Nigeria should patronize these data centres in-country because they are guaranteed to invest in the growth of the local economy as opposed to the foreign-owned facilities which repatriate their profits to their home countries.

Their argument is justified – these companies owned by UAE, South Africans and other foreign nationals regularly plough their profits back to their countries which are used to further develop their economies. These huge profits (usually in dollars) have a direct impact in Nigeria’s foreign exchange challenges in recent times. Foreign-owned businesses are also known to be the first to jettison the country once the going gets tough, as was witnessed in the 80s when majority of the foreign owned banks operating in the country closed shop due to a depleting economic environment.

Some argue that there are doubts as to the security of national data when hosted offshore vis-à-vis data hosted in-country. Underlying this argument is the poignant inference that foreigners are better at securing their data than Nigerians. While such thinking should be pitied, there is some grain of truth in it. This is perhaps why the government’s new drive for citizens to patronise ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods and services has not gotten off to a good start as the drivers of the initiative have been caught out more than once in their preference for foreign goods over locally produced ones. So then, is it a question of quality, competence, standards?

 

Galaxy Backbone, the federal government-backed data centre located in Abuja is certified Tier III meeting all known global standards and provides top-level enterprise hosting service with a 24-hour support system, with consistent power supply with fail safes, environmental controls and on-demand rack space.

MDXi, owned by MainOne, and located in Lagos is a premiere facility with Tier III certification, ISO security certification and offers world class services. Even more appealing is that MainOne is one of Nigeria’s success stories deserving recognition as a business committed to the country’s socio-economic development.

The argument here is simple; the data service industry in Nigeria needs support not just from the government through the effective enforcement of data protection policies but also from businesses. With the increasing pace at which technology is evolving, it is critical for us to have local data domiciliation laws that will limit data breach, limit huge capital outflows from the country and encourage Nigerians and investors to look inward towards harnessing our potentials.

Jumoke Akiyode