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‘Datacentres become power producers’

Africa , 03 May 2022

ITWeb Africa speaks to MD of Africa Data Centre’s East Africa region about increased datacentre development and cloud adoption on the continent.

Africa Data Centres’ East Africa regional MD Dan Kwach.
Africa Data Centres’ East Africa regional MD Dan Kwach.

Increased cloud adoption and the ever-growing use of digital tools are fuelling growth of datacentres in Africa. However, the lack of infrastructure to support these datacentres remains a challenge.

Africa Data Centres’ East Africa regional MD Dan Kwach is seeking to change the narrative and usher more enterprises into cloud adoption.

VINCENT MATINDE (VM): What is changing in the datacentre space in Africa?

DAN KWACH (DK): For me, it’s all about the tools of mass efficiency. We live in a society driven by technology, which we use to communicate and conduct our business and personal lives, so we need to deliver these services most efficiently.

By partnering with Distributed Power Technologies (DPT), another company under the umbrella of our parent company, Cassava Technologies, we aim to provide renewable energy and storage solutions for our datacentres across Africa.

Distributed Power Technologies gives us tailored renewable energy solutions at no upfront investment and on power purchase and power lease agreement, and guarantees zero technical risk, by harnessing the best technologies available. These are the technologies I believe will be game-changing.

VM: Do we need more datacentres in Africa and how would it change connectivity for Africans, more so on the cost side?

DK: Africa still does not have nearly enough datacentres, which are critical infrastructure as they ensure the continent’s digital sovereignty. As of early last year, Africa accounts for less than 1% of the globe’s co-location datacentre supply.

There’s a challenge when it comes to the distribution of datacentres across Africa, with most of the continent’s colocation facilities based in South Africa, Nigeria, followed by Kenya and then Morocco.

Unfortunately, most African Web sites are still hosted in Europe. Many might think this doesn’t matter, but remember, the closer a datacentre is to the user, the faster the user will be able to access information and be able to use the services that are hosted at that datacentre.

Co-location facilities rent space, power and cooling to enterprises as well as the hyper-scalers, and they offer the interconnection that enables organisations to scale at low complexity and cost.

VM: What is the current state of cloud-based technology tools adoption in Kenya/East Africa with the advancement of datacentres in the region?

DK: The adoption of cloud technology in Kenya and East Africa as a whole has accelerated in the past few years, fuelled by better broadband connectivity and data becoming more affordable.

However, many private entities and public sector organisations in East Africa have yet to fully jump on the cloud bandwagon and adopt these services due to inadequate knowledge, unclear regulations, as well as concerns around the expense and security of the cloud.

As with many other regions in Africa, inadequate access to a reliable, high-speed Internet connection remains a significant barrier to cloud adoption, because the cloud cannot happen without this connectivity.

VM: As an operator, what are some of the challenges you experience in running these facilities across the region?

DK: One critical logistical challenge is power. Africa is significantly underpowered with only about 20% of the continent’s citizens able to benefit from any sort of reliable utility power.

We believe an off-grid solution using renewable energy is the only truly viable solution in the long term and can see datacentres become power producers who could even supply power back into the grid at some point.

Another challenge is the well-documented shortage of the skills needed to run datacentres effectively.

There is the opportunity to harness the power of new technologies such as automation, smart datacentre infrastructure management solutions, as well as artificial intelligence to help address the management of power and cooling while finding ways to reduce the need for bodies in the datacentre.

VM: Are we seeing more companies/enterprises hosting their solutions locally and what is driving this move?

DK: Business leaders in Africa find themselves under growing pressure, as they have to manage significant, and often inequitable, competition between their businesses and their counterparts in the more developed world.

"We believe an off-grid solution using renewable energy is the only truly viable solution in the long term and can see datacentres become power producers who could even supply power back into the grid at some point."

Africa Data Centres’ East Africa regional MD Dan Kwach.

Concurrently, the global COVID-19 pandemic forced entities in every sector and of every size, to rationalise their investments, increase productivity and lower costs - in short, they suddenly had to do more, with a whole lot less.

We are seeing a slew of new companies starting to host their solutions and their data locally because by hosting these outside their borders, African countries were ceding a good chunk of their political, economic and digital sovereignty.

VM: What does the future hold for ADC in terms of expansion and growth?

DK: In September last year, Africa Data Centres announced the largest expansion plans Africa has ever seen. These plans will see us building several hyper-scale data centres across Africa, including the top five data centre markets in Africa, namely South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco and Egypt.

We have set aside US$500-million to enable us to more than double our already significant footprint in Africa, which will boost digital transformation on the continent.

These plans shine the spotlight on our commitment to accelerating digital transformation in Africa, and growing our datacentre's footprint is a critical element when it comes to delivering on our vision of a completely digitally connected future that will bring Africa up to speed with the rest of the world. 

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