Africa’s data centres market features 85 competitors from 54 countries within a continent that is home to 1.3billion people, and with an overall geographic area similar to Paris or Amsterdam, it is ripe for expansion and investment.
This is according to the Africa Data Centres Association (ADCA), a membership-driven organisation that is focused on helping members with the most pressing challenges in the market, including data sovereignty, bandwidth costs, latency and IT computing power.
The organisation’s board is comprised of tech professionals from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.
Fatoumata Sarr from Orange Sonatel and chairperson of the Association says there are also specific challenges like infrastructure and technical.
“There is still a gap in African energy infrastructure which requires that operators adopt elaborate innovative solutions such as on site renewables to address the energy gap and the need for solid, reliable power.
Data centres are consuming energy to power IT equipment and cooling systems to cool down IT, which is not always easy in (a) tropical and Equatorial climate. Innovative, efficient cooling solutions are key… There is still also a gap in connectivity in some African countries, mainly the landlocked ones,” says Sarr.
Sarr also points to ongoing issues like skills and available competencies related to datacentre management and maintenance, as well as the need for solid operational procedures.
“… an ecosystem of partners for design, installation and maintenance which is not yet at the required level. When talking of infrastructure in Africa, it is a no-brainer to bring government into the picture – however, this datacentre infrastructure industry has been very successful as a private for profit initiative, much like the hotel infrastructure industry. Enabling this private industry to finance and develop its infrastructure in Africa should be the government focus.”
According to the Association, the outsourcing mindset (cloud, co-location) is still to evolve to become entrenched in African businesses.
“Businesses would rather use their capital business ventures than build their own datacentres, and would have great benefits to rent a secure place to host their servers.”
There is a great deal of datacentre infrastructure development and construction in Africa currently and Sarr believes the industry needs to unite to attract investment.
“The datacentre industry needs to recognise the need of a platform to promote its industry in Africa, and to exchange with other members on the different challenges they are facing. We do have a lot of datacentre construction in Africa and there are a lot of investors that are looking for the next growth frontier which represents Africa,” she says.
Some of the organisation’s objectives for 2020 include to grow its membership base (it is targeting 50 by year-end), to prepare datacentre technician training for members’ employees via the African Development Bank (AfDB), to collaborate with the African Union (AU) through the Smart Africa initiative, and to engage with governments according to economic zones, also via the AfDB.
A top priority right now is to generate the first African data centres market survey, together with the AfDB.
“It will help to understand with precision where Africa is in terms of datacentres, to understand the gap in benchmarking with mature economies, and understand the versatility between countries to size the potential demand and help attract investors,” says Sarr.