Data Digitisation, content and cloud providers are essential to developing data centres in the country- Egboye, Chief Operating Officer, Rack Centre.

Rack Centre, West Africa’s best-connected Tier III Carrier and Cloud-neutral data centre, recently had its groundbreaking ceremony to construct a new best-in-class Rack Centre LGS2 data centre in Lagos, Nigeria. The new build is expected to expand the capacity of Rack Centre by ten folds and consolidate its leadership as the digital infrastructure hub in the sub-Saharan African region.

Our correspondent had a chat with the Chief Operating Officer of Rack Centre, Ezekiel Egboye; please find below, excerpts:

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

A: 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. Rack Centre was established in 2012 and began operation in 2013. It was the first carrier-neutral data centre in the country to provide collocation 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 12 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 center landscape in the country. It has been an incredible journey to date. We will continue to grow and provide the scalability platform required to meet the ever-growing demands of the industry. It is noteworthy that we are entering a new era of data centre growth. This is due to the accommodation of digitalization, which will boost more localization of data and applications provided by the new entrants of international content and cloud providers into the African market.

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

A: When you talk about latency, it is providing 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 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 the 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. 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?

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

Digitization 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.

Also, 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 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 the more data centre space is needed to provide hosting for that infrastructure.

Internet penetration is growing in Nigeria faster, leading to increased demand for data centres; what future lies ahead for data centres in Nigeria?

A: I am glad to say that the future of the data centre industry in Nigeria is extremely bright. We see continuous growth in the 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. And the international players clearly understand the importance of anchoring their Africa strategy in Nigeria.

We will ensure that we continue expanding in the data centre field. That was one of the critical things that made us and our shareholders believe very strongly in the capacity we have seen, which has impacted the decision to expand our facility to bring in the 12MW data centre facility in line with the future demands we are seeing. We recently broke ground for the new data centre facility called LGS 2. We currently have a 1.5MW data centre which, in terms of capacity, is full. We are starting to onboard into the future, and that will give us a total capacity of 13.5MW 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.

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

A: 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.

In simple terms, we have plans to bring additional sites within the country. We are currently going through the process of understanding the various geographical data centre requirements and will address the challenge as we see fit.

So, in simple terms, we have plans to bring additional sites within the country, and we are going through the process of understanding the various geographical data centre requirements and will address the challenge as we see fit.

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

A: 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 data centre collocation is that it provides 24/7 operations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were very prepared. We had critically assessed the situation and worked very closely with the health authorities. We also had a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place, which we evolved to ensure that we could 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 on through our online platform to request any remote services you need. Our capable engineers on duty would provide those services on behalf of the client.

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.

Those clients that had their infrastructure in-house historically saw the advantage of moving their infrastructure to Rack Centre. This was so that they could rely 100% on Rack Centre services and experience fewer issues around their local in-house staff trying to come into the office or being able to provide 24/7 service.

So, they pushed the burden into the capable hands of Rack Centre, and we were able to support them post-COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the number of clientele Rack Centre has enjoyed since its foray into data centre space?

A: One important thing to note here is that the journey of colocation in Nigeria has been gradual. Historically, people were skeptical 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% uptime without a single downtime for ten years. No data centre facility in the country today has operated with 100% uptime with no issues. That 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 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.

I would also like to add that there are many advantages for our clients to benefit from our highly connected facility. Our pedigree in the industry has attracted a teeming number of local and international clients, and this has encouraged increased competition and more connectivity resulting in the provision of better service to the end user. The increased flexibility and opportunity present in terms of colocation and interconnection at our facility provide newly onboarded clients with the freedom of choice and new network services to connect with multiple carriers in our data centres enabling redundancy, optimal uptime, and cost-efficiency, all of which are being offered by our ever-growing carrier cloud and content ecosystem.

In summary, there has been significant growth in terms of client uptake that we have seen in the last five to seven years.

Even though Tier III data centres exist locally, many companies still host their data outside the country; how positioned is Rack Centre in addressing this challenge to encourage local hosting? 

A: We constantly create awareness by educating the market about the quality of service we provide. Our customer satisfaction is exceptionally high, which is a key trigger that is starting to make people understand that Rack Centre can provide the same quality of service as any data centre in the world.

Another key constraint that is changing the minds of people from hosting abroad is forex availability. If you are hosting abroad, you pay in dollars or whatever foreign currency the service provider demands. And we are all aware of the challenges of foreign exchange in Nigeria today. So, clients are beginning to have second thoughts about that constraint and understand they can get the same quality of service in Nigeria.

The question is: why search for foreign currency when you can pay in your local currency?

We are now working with many digital ecosystem partners that provide cloud computing locally and internationally, providing the same level of cloud computing that foreign cloud service providers can offer. Our local partners also charge in local currency and have a local presence. This effort is contributing a great deal to helping to educate the market and change the mindset of those hosting abroad to work with the local cloud service providers to be able to consume their data and access their infrastructure locally.

We must also recognize the latency issue when you are hosting abroad. As I said earlier, clients are becoming very savvy. So, when clients notice latency issues in accessing their applications or processing payments, they get agitated and concerned. Local hosting, with all the ISPs we have in the country, all located in the Rack Centre, over 63 of them, and we are continuously growing, all the undersea cables, the IXPN and AF-CIX platforms, if you look at them together, it eliminates that issue of latency clients typically have once hosted in Rack Centre. In conclusion, there are many reasons why those hosting abroad must bring back their infrastructure to regional data centres like Rack Centre.

How has Rack Centre been able to maintain 100% uptime?

A: We can confidently speak about our culture of excellence. Every touchpoint in the value chain at Rack Centre must meet stringent excellence criteria set by the business, from security to accessing your infrastructure, to the support you get, and to our operational engineering department. We have a clear mandate to do our best, and we continuously improve what we do.

From an uptime perspective, it is in our DNA to continually invest in the right quality of infrastructure. We ensure that every aspect of our infrastructure is top quality. We have a very strong maintenance culture driven by a clear annual maintenance schedule, where we also have all the critical spare parts in stock. We invest a lot of capital expenditures into our critical infrastructure, and we have an excellent team that is very knowledgeable, constantly trained, and motivated to do the job, going beyond what is expected of them. The team has won a lot of global awards, individually and as a team.

In the area of support level, the team is knowledge-based and can deliver on time. Within every operator, there are bound to be some challenges. It is only smooth sometimes, but what makes us exceptional is how we can deal with those challenges. We believe in documentation and processes, so we have clear procedures, and the team understands the importance of processes and governance in day-to-day operations.

Can you share with us some of the plans and projections of Rack Centre for Nigeria in the next five years?

A: In the next five years, we have a lot planned. We are currently building a new data centre, which is expected to be completed next year. It is a huge facility, so it will take some time to fill it up. However, we are confident that we will be able to do so within three years. This is based on our projections and understanding of the growth in the market.

In addition to this, we are also looking at other opportunities within the country. We will explore these opportunities once we identify a suitable business case for a second location within the country. This is part of our five-year plan, and we are excited to see what the future holds.

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