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New demands for data centres in Africa, Teraco, ADC respond

By , Africa editor
Africa , 08 Mar 2023
The recently completed 10MW JHB1 Africa Data Centres facility in Midrand.
The recently completed 10MW JHB1 Africa Data Centres facility in Midrand.

Data centres in Africa will, in the near future, increasingly face demands and regulation for transparency over their energy and water usage, this as key players agree the sector is “one of the greatest culprits” when it comes to power and water consumption.

This is according to senior industry executives, who say, demand for sustainable data centres will accelerate, as consumers are progressively conscious of the United Nations Environment Sustainable Goals.

Alaa Bawab, Lenovo general manager of infrastructure solutions in the Middle East and Africa, says African data centres need to act against extreme weather conditions that could affect business, livelihoods, and the economy.

In the same measure, two big data centre providers in Africa, Teraco and Cassava technologies-owned Africa Data Centres (ADC), agree action is urgent, and they are rolling out plans to power their facilities with renewable energy.

According to Bawab, intense heat waves on the continent will soon impact data centres in Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, and South Africa, where companies are being urged to develop energy-efficient IT systems to keep their data centres cool.

In hot weather, data centres need even more power to keep their equipment cool.

This, Bawab says, highlights a significant problem “that too few people are aware of the colossal power demands of the data centres that drive almost everything in the modern world, from food delivery to banking to communications.”

Bawab provided key market dynamics, outlook, and economics in Africa’s growing data centre market.

Ballooning market

The African market is bulging for commercial data centre deployments.

Since 2017, African data centre providers have spent a cumulative $2 billion in building data centre facilities, bringing to market more than 200MW of fresh commercial IT load capacity, according to Cape Town-based infrastructure investment consultancy, Xalam Analytics.

Software-defined interconnection provider, Console Connect Africa, Interconnection Report 2022 forecasts that an estimated $5 billion to $6 billion will be invested in carrier-neutral data centres in Africa over the next three to five years.

This, as data centre service providers, are expecting an increase in data traffic as a result of more submarine communications cables coming to Africa. The past three years has seen a wave of investments on the continent.

Going forward, Bawab warns, data centres not meeting sustainability targets for a business is going to be almost as bad as not hitting financial targets.

He explains: “Data centres are at the centre of economic development in Africa, and without them, markets lose the opportunity to develop a connected, self-sufficient ICT ecosystem.

“However, with recent heat waves reaching high temperatures of 40°C across Africa and expected to become more frequent in future, various data centres will, unfortunately, be affected.

“The centres will not only experience a drop in efficiency, which could result in increased energy costs – but they will also interrupt financial investment that has gone into building new ones.”

The roadmap

In response to the environmental sustainability concerns, Jan Hnizdo, CEO of Teraco, tells ITWeb Africa the success of his company ‘lies in being in tandem with the environment, customers, employees and surrounding communities’.

He says: “Environmental sustainability is a business imperative; the environment is a key pillar of our sustainability strategy.”

Teraco, owns the biggest data centre in Africa, and late last year announced the completion of the first phase of JB4, its new hyperscale data centre.

The JB4 addition to Teraco’s growing data centre platform took critical power load capacity at Teraco facilities to 126MW, which includes the Isando Campus JB1/JB3 (40MW), Bredell Campus JB2/JB4 (64MW), Cape Town Campus CT1/CT2 (21MW) and Durban (1MW).

Among the measures Teraco is implementing to meet its environmental sustainability goals is running on 100% clean energy by 2035.

Hnizdo says: “We are in the process of building and developing a utility-scale, 200MW solar plant. We are rolling out our rooftop solar programme, for which we expect to have 6MW installed by the end of 2023.”

In addition, he says, the vendor-neutral data centre and interconnection platform provider, is driving continuous improvement in energy efficiency and using the latest technology in monitoring and cooling to reduce the amount of energy it consumes to run its facilities.

According to Hnizdo, for environmentally conscious, sustainability-focussedclients, choosing a data centre provider that “places the same emphasis onsustainability and transparent reporting is already a key consideration whendeciding where to locate their IT equipment.”

In the case of African Data Centres , which is located across Africa's major regional business and trade hubs, including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos, the company says, while data centres are ‘the heart of the digital economy’, they are also ‘one of the greatest culprits when it comes to power and water consumption’.

“This is a particularly pressing issue for African countries, where resources are scarce, and power supplies, often unreliable,” says Finhai Munzara, ADC chief financial officer.

“Every year, the data centre industry needs to try to reach two critical, yet conflicting goals. It must meet the demand for capacity to support a growth of high-performance computing, digital services, edge environments, and IoT devices. Concurrently, it has to find ways to lower energy usage and reduce its impact on resources that are already stretched to the maximum.”

Absent game rules

On regulation governing the sector, Munzara says: “Unfortunately, this is largely lacking in Africa.”

“There has been little data centre policymaking in Africa, in part due to a lack of cognisance about what the digital economy looks like and what it means for citizens. However, there are some developments in this area, in the more technologically advanced nations, and we hope to see this spread to further areas soon.”

Bawab adds that companies need to take an ‘holistic view’ of the energy consumed by data centres, and ‘how to get a grip on it’.

“It’s an area where vendors, partners and customers will need to work closely together, taking an overview of every part of the journey, from the point when a server arrives at a data centre to moment when it’s recycled, upcycled or reused," says Bawab.

"Everything needs to be measured, monitored, and understood. Sustainability is a journey – and for companies which rely on data centres, taking the first step is the most important part.”

Bawab says data centres are at the heart of economic development in Africa, and without them, markets lose the opportunity to develop a connected, self-sufficient ICT ecosystem.

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