This Day Live, January 15, 2015

Managing Director, Rack Centre Limited, Mr. Ayotunde Coker, spoke with Emma Okonji on the company’s efforts in developing its data centre operations in order to address growing demands for big data storage and management. Excerpts:

There is a growing demand for big data storage and management among organisations. What is Rack Centre doing to address this new development?

We are aware of the new trend in the growth of big data across organisations in the country, and we have gone ahead to invest more in big data storage and management, in order to address the new demands. We operate a Tier 111 data centre with modern facilities that best address data storage and management,,and it is for this reason that we have most bluechip companies and several organisations across all sectors of the Nigerian economy, patronising our data centre.
We have the lowest Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) in Nigeria and the whole of West Africa, which makes our data centre highly optimised, highly efficient, with the capability of green power environment.

The cooling system of any data centre determines its efficiency, so how effective is the cooling system of Rack Centre?

We have the air Optimiser cooling system that operates with censors in each of the information technology (IT) rooms. Each censor determines the amount of cooling system that the equipment requires. We have four IT rooms, with each having a censor. What the air optimiser does is to generate the exact amount of cold air required by the equipment in the IT rooms and then supply that exact amount of cooling that is required, such that it does not generate more that or less than the cooling required by the equipment. This is the reason why our data centre is not under very low temperature that could be freezing to human. If two units are able to provide the cooling required, then only that two will be working, while the other two will be on standby. If there are more equipment in the room and more cooling is required, the censor will send the signal to the air oprtimser to generate more cooing and this is done automatically without any human intervention.

If the cooling system in the equipment room is not controlled by the censor, there will be condensation and the moisture from the condensation can conduct electricity that can burn the board and damage the equipment. So we have the best cooling system among other data centre operating companies.

So how does the cooling system operates?

Cold air blows from the optimiser, cools the system, and the hot air that emits from the racks is returned to the optimiser where another cooling takes place, and the air circulation girls round and round in that manner. With this system in place, we are able to maintain 1.3 power utilisation efficiency (PUE). In most data centres, you will not find the readings of the PUE, because it reads up to 3.0, which is abnormal.

We have enough racks to accommodate small and big data of organisations and our facilities are designed to accommodate more racks in the future as the business expands further. Our data centre is designed to accommodate 225 racks in each floor of three floors design, which is a calculated design for future expansion.

Again our data centre has a neural collocation centre for all operators, which enables them to have redundant links that they could switch over to at anytime, from the same location, and this makes us unique.

What is the future of data centre like in Nigeria, and do you build separate data centres for specific industries like oil and gas, telecommunications, and financial institutions?

The future of data centre in Nigeria is very bright and that is why we are offering services with the latest technology. Our build up time is modular and this allows us to fine-tune the modules that we build into the environment where we operate. We do not build separate data centres for specific industry because doing so is not an efficient way of deploying technology. What is needed in data centre is flexible technology that allows us to deliver services that different sectors need. This is because each sector does not need different technology solution to handle their data. Although each sector differs a little from one another, but the key thing is having a flexible solution that addresses all these needs, and that is the kind of solution we offer to our clients. Again, technology changes fast and we are on top of our game, offering the latest data centre technology solution to our clients.

Recently, Rack Centre was shortlisted for an award based on efficiency in technology service delivery. What informed the nomination?

Yes we were nominated for the recent data centre service dynamic award from the Institute of Government Research in Leadership and Technology in London, which is an independent assessment body on data centre service delivery.
Rack Centre was one of the four data centre solution providers selected for the award. We became the only African data centre operator nominated among the four selected global data centre operators and we are very proud of that. Rack Centre became the only African company that have gotten to that stage. Although we did not win in the final selection, but we were close to winning and our joy is that Rack Centre was the only data centre operator from the whole of Africa to be nominated for the award.

We started data centre operations few years ago and within a short time, we were recognised and nominated for a global award, and this makes us extremely happy. My joy is that Nigeria was represented at that global award, through Rack Centre. We give kudos to our management team and the track record of our parent company, the Jagal Group, which has helped us in getting global recognition.

What are the plans to sustain this global recognition and to win in the final award in subsequent awards?

With the track record of the people we have in the leadership team in Rack Centre, I am sure more efforts will be put in place to maintain the level we have so far reached and also strive to win the award itself by next season. If you look at the track record of our parent company, the Jagal Group, you will discover that it is always building on existing achievements and we hope to clinch that award some day, having gone this far. We have absolute passion for everything we do. We invest in our people, we hire the best brains and we develop them to continue being the best in the industry.

How do you view competition in the kind of business you do?

Competition is good for us and for the kind of business that we do, and we welcome competition because it will make us more innovative always, in order to give the best to our customers. With competition, in means we just have to continue to develop the muscle and capability that will keep us at the forefront of what we do. Again, we do not benchmark ourselves with data centre operators in Nigeria alone, but we benchmark ourselves with other African companies and the rest of the world. In doing so, we are building local capacities in Nigeria that have global vision.

As data centre operator, what kind of security support are you giving to customers that will enable them build up their trust in your service offerings?

We have differing layers of security in out business offerings, which can be grouped under 10 levels of security. With Rack Centre, customers’ assets are secured because we have built different layers of security that will always protect customers’ data in our centre. In terms of reliability, Rack Centre service offerings have been proved to be highly reliable. For instance, we have a Tier 111 certification from the Uptime Institute, which certified us as qualified Tier 111 Data Centre with the appropriate facilities to offer data services to customers. We offer the best design in downtime and our design criteria downtime is 8 minutes maximum per month and we have not experienced one second of downtime since we commenced data centre operation in Nigeria, and this is the reason we had always retained our customers and also received new customers periodically.

Do you have a system in place that allows customers to conveniently have access to their data and have full control of such data from a remote location?

Yes, customers have access their data remotely, through a specialised software that we have installed. They can also have direct access and control of their data from the premises of our data centre, if they choose to do so.
We also have a system in place called the remote arm, which allows our technical engineers to control data of customers on their behalf, if the customers so desire.
We also have close circuit television (CCTV) monitoring system and the online real time access for six months or more. Big customers can also monitor their CCTV as desired.

What are the things you have put in place to address risk management and data recovery, in the case of fire disaster or any other kind of disaster?

Risk management is key to us and we have enterprise risk management processes in place that is reviewed frequently. We plan for even the unexpected, because we want to ensure safety of customers’ data always. Apart from we having disaster recover plan in Rack Centre, we also advise organisations to have their own disaster recovery in a different location outside the premises of their organisations, so that should anything disastrous occur within their premises, their data will always be saved and could be easily recovered for business continuity.
We are multiple network provider, which enables our customers to have choice of high quality network services. The other thing we do is that we are extension of our customers’ Information Technology (IT), because we have different certification standards, which makes us unique in data centre operation with diversified service offerings.

Since Rack Centre has Tier 111 data centre certification, so what exactly qualifies a data centre for a Tier 111 certification?

For any data centre to be certified as Tier 111 by the Uptime Institute, it must be concurrently maintained in such a way that some of its components may be removed for servicing, and immediately replaced with another to avoid any disruptions of the operations of the data centre, and to achieve this, there is a required level of design mechanisms that must be put in place, and approved by the Uptime Institute.

There are reports that Nigeria cannot have a Tier 111 data centre because of the single grid system that the country has. What is your take on this?

It is absolutely possible for Nigeria to have a Tier 111 data centre, because Rack Centre is already Tier 111 certified. You may be referring to Tier IV data centre, which requires additional routes of grid supply, outside a single national grid system that Nigeria currently has. But all over the world, we have very few Tier IV data centres, because the cost of delivering Tier IV is extremely high and most global data centre operators, settle for Tier 111 data centre because the service demand for Tier IV data centre is on the low side.

What are the benefits of a Tier 111 data centre to organisations with big and small data?

The Tier 111 data centre comes with several benefits for the customers. It gives customers full assurance of the safety of their data, security wise, and this is essential to any business, be it small or big. Data Centre investment is huge and looks like a non-earning assets on the balance sheet of any organisation. So what data centre operators like Rack Centre has done, is to carry that burden off the shoulders of organisations, since it is not their core business in the first place to operate a data centre, giving them enough time to focus on their core business. So it saves organisations huge some of money that could be invested in their core operations to boost returns on investment. It also saves organisations the challenge of having downtime in their businesses. Again, building data centres by
organisations, amounts to serious distractions on the part of the organisation. My experience as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) in one of the banks some years ago, tells it all, where I have to be worried about maintaining the data centre of the bank. It also saves physical space for organisations.

With your Tier 111 data centre, what sectors of the Nigerian economy are you targeting?

Rack Centre is targeting all sectors of the Nigerian economy that manages data, because we have the service offerings for all of them, be it financial services, oil and gas, power, telecommunications, governments, among others. Significant amount of government operations require data management and we have all it takes to manage government data. Currently we servicing most of the bluechip companies from our data centre, as well as top insurance and payment companies, including banks and telecommunications companies.

What is your projection in terms of business growth in data centre operations in the nest five years?

We see ourselves developing technology parks in Nigeria in the next five to ten years, that will be comparable to global technology parks. We also want to see Rack Centre driving the Nigerian economy through data technology.

What are the opportunities of growth for data centres in Nigeria?

The opportunities are huge and we can see other data centre operators springing up in the country. Again there is opportunity for expansion in length and breadth of the business and I can see that already happening. For Rack Centre, we intend expanding beyond Nigeria, into other West African counties.

What are the challenges of running a Tier 111 data centre in Nigeria?

The challenges are huge, just like the opportunities. We run generators with diesel 24/7 without the use of electricity from the national grid. We decided to do it that way because we want to avoid a situation where operations will be put to a halt because of power failure from national grid, which will be a lot of cost on our part.
Maintenance is also challenging, as we spend so much in maintaining the entire system and also putting backup in place. Monitoring the facilities is also challenging and we have skilled staff that are on standby for monitiring, and all these are challenges of maintaining data centre in Nigeria.

What are your corporate social responsibility programmes like?

We have corporate social responsibility (CSR) orogrammes that are helpful to the communities where we operate. We are building local content capability skills through our training. We are currently looking at how we can develop more technology skills among Nigerian university students