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Cloud services are essential to developing data centres in Nigeria – Egboye, COO, Rack Centres

Cloud services are essential to developing data centres in Nigeria – Egboye, COO, Rack Centers

Ezekiel Egboye, the chief operating officer at Rack Centre, speaks on the evolution of data centres, the threats and opportunities facing the industry as well as the future of digital infrastructure in Nigeria and beyond, in this interview with BusinessDay’s Joshua Bassey, excerpts:

How would you assess the evolution of data centres in Nigeria?

Historically, data centres have been misconstrued in this country. In the past, what we had were computer houses where companies stored IT infrastructure. However, this does not meet the global definition of a data centre, which requires high standards of cooling, power redundancy, security, and connectivity.

The founders of Rack Centre identified this challenge and decided to provide the services that would allow enterprise businesses, small and corporate businesses to meet the global standards for data centres. The Rack Centre began operations in 2013.

It is the first carrier-neutral data centre in the country to provide colocation services that accommodate the best possible uptime for the benefit of its customers. This has allowed Rack Centre to achieve a USP of zero downtime since inception. This has afforded a lot of opportunities to the banks and across other sectors as well, where they now have a reliable facility where they can host their infrastructure and grow their infrastructure in line with what is expected and best practice.

In the last 10 years, there has been a gradual progression in the data centre industry. We have grown significantly, and there have been new entrants into the data centre landscape in the country. It has been an incredible journey to date.

As a player in the data centre market, how would you rate network latency and redundancy in Nigeria?

When you talk about latency, it provides communication between accessing your infrastructure and where you are consuming the infrastructure. In the past 10 years, there has been significant improvement and growth in Nigeria’s telecommunications infrastructure, which has substantially impacted latency reduction.

Rack Centre is the best-connected data centre facility in West Africa. We have over 63 ISPs and network providers in the facility, providing fibre and telecom mast services. All eight undersea cables are directly connected to the Rack Centre. This allows our clients to solve their latency issues and brings economies of scale to our clients when they have multiple redundancies. Three independent network paths are coming into the facility, creating network resilience regarding fibre connectivity. We ensure that all the 63 network providers currently in our facility have dual routes into the facility, which takes away the risk of fibre cuts or any fibre issues that typically happen around the country.

In addition to all eight undersea cables, we have all the relevant, current Tier 1 service providers in the country, such as Orange Networks, Liquid Telecom, WIOCC, and Avanti. These providers are present at Rack Centre, thereby reducing latency for our clients.

Another key thing is the presence of IXPN (Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria) and AF-CIX (African Interconnection Exchange). These two independent internet exchange platforms have brought in member partners into the community to interconnect within Rack Centre, which significantly reduces latency issues and provides the required speed and connectivity within the member partners for the client to connect to any global resources they intend to consume seamlessly.

What are the critical drivers of growth and demand for data centres in Nigeria?

The critical driver of growth for data centres is the digitalisation of our economy and society, which is supported by content and cloud providers. Digitalisation is not really the future but today, and it will continue to grow.

Digitalisation requires exceptional connectivity because we have very savvy clients and customers in the country today. The country is vast, with knowledgeable people who expect to be able to access content and cloud providers’ platforms easily. The digital economy mandate from the Federal Government is equally important.

Global content and cloud providers like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and many others are also coming into the country. This is because, in technology, there is something called the edge, which means putting infrastructure as close as possible to the people who consume it. Global content providers have taken advantage of this by setting up local hubs in Nigeria to provide direct and easy access to content and local applications in Nigeria.

At Rack Centre, we work closely with content and cloud providers to make us a data hub for many of these providers to provide access to content and applications to the local market. The likes of Nollywood and a few other content creators are very important for this growth in the industry. This is because the more data you consume, the more infrastructure is required, and more data centre space is needed to provide hosting for that infrastructure.

Internet penetration is growing faster in Nigeria, what future lies ahead for data centres in the country?

I am glad to say that the future of the data centre industry in Nigeria is extremely bright. We see continuous growth in hosting and infrastructure requirements driven by the key factors that I have highlighted. There is also a huge penetration of international clients. Africa is a key market, and Nigeria is at the heart of Africa. The international players clearly understand the importance of anchoring their Africa strategy in Nigeria.

We will ensure that we continue to expand in the data centre field. This was one of the critical things that made us and our shareholders believe very strongly in the capacity we have seen, which has impacted our decision to expand our facility to bring in the 12MW data centre facility in line with projected future demand. We broke ground for our new data centre facility called LGS 2 in April 2023 which will see our overall campus IT power load go up to 13.5MW from 1.5MW, which is set to be completed next year. It would become the largest data centre infrastructure outside South Africa within the Sub-Saharan African region, offering carrier and cloud neutrality, situated in a superior geographical location with 100 percent uptime.

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Are there plans to establish it in other parts of the country?

We constantly review the market to understand it better and have a strategy to ensure that we are part of the market and fulfil the market demands. This means we constantly review the country’s data centre landscape, identify areas where we think growth is needed, and continuously explore. Our shareholders are very open and interested in making investment decisions. As long as we identify the right business case, the investment will be there and we will expand.

COVID-19 triggered many changes and opportunities in the digital ecosystem. Do you think data centres in Nigeria have the requisite infrastructure and facilities to meet digital demand?

Definitely, and I can tell you that Rack Centre is a classic example of how data centres responded to COVID-19. One key thing about the data centre colocation is that it provides 24/7 operations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were very prepared. We critically assessed the situation and worked very closely with the health authorities. We also have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place, which we evolved to ensure that we can provide and maintain the same level of access, quality of service, and seamless operations.

This allowed enterprise and corporate businesses the freedom to work remotely without having their engineers come down to the physical data centres to do any upgrades. We have what we describe as “remote hands,” where you can log in through our online platform to request any remote services you need.

Also, because of the remote working, we saw a huge bandwidth requirement. Internet usage and connectivity to the infrastructure grew significantly. We also saw a significant increase in the demand for content. All of these factors greatly impacted the growth of our various clients from an infrastructure standpoint. This meant that they needed to take up more space.

The clients that have had their infrastructure in-house historically see the advantage of moving their infrastructure to Rack Centre.

What’s Rack Centre’s clientele base since its foray into data centre space?

One important thing to note here is that the journey of colocation in Nigeria has been gradual. Historically, people were sceptical of outsourcing their infrastructure to a third party. They felt very safe having it in-house, where they could monitor or control it. But over time, there has been great awareness. We have continuously been there to educate people and build trust. We have had 100 percent uptime without a single downtime for ten years. No data centre facility in the country today operates with 100 percent uptime with no issues. This is an excellent testament to the capability of our infrastructure and also the support team that we have. This has changed the mindset of clients who want to keep their infrastructure to themselves because they cannot provide that level of service to themselves.

Also, there are specific government policies and mandates from the Central Bank of Nigeria, which mandate banks to have, at least, either their primary or secondary infrastructure in a Tier III facility to which they have to comply. This has also changed how banks now view data centres, use data centres, and encourage their staff to be part of that journey in transitioning from in-house to external colocation facilities.

Our pedigree in the industry has attracted a teeming number of local and international clients, which has driven our ecosystem growth of telco & carriers, financial institutions, hyperscalers, and our push to create awareness amongst MSMEs, education and public sector of the benefits of colocation.