Interview by Chinenye Anuforo, Sun Newspaper, August 22, 2018
Mr. Ezekiel Egboye is the Chief Operating Officer, Rack Centre, a state-of-the-art Tier III constructed facility certified data centre offering carrier neutral colocation services. It has connection to over 27 of the major carriers and Internet service providers (ISPs) in the country and direct connection to all undersea cables serving the South Atlantic Coast of Africa. Egboye is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the business, ensuring that the corporate and business goals and objectives are clearly in line with the company’s vision. In this exclusive interview with Tech & Gadgets, he speaks about the company and issues concerning data centre operations in Nigeria.
Role of data centres
First of all, I would like to look at it from a global context; there is a study that was done by the World Economic Forum around infrastructure readiness and micro economy policies and also how countries perform, and the current report clearly shows that the top 10 global economies that are performing very well have very high infrastructure and technology readiness. When you look at the sub-Saharan African countries, we are far below those thresholds and that is because of our adoption to technology and infrastructure readiness. One key thing is data centres, when you talk about technology. Data centres underpin technology, so, there is a key hierarchy, where you got the applications on the top layers, the applications have to sit on the servers, the servers require connectivity, and all these infrastructures are seen in a data centre. Without a data centre, it is extremely difficult and very challenging for any nation to grow.
Data centres in Nigeria, how competitive?
Rack Centre is a clear example that answers your question and why. Globally, different countries have different challenges and you just clearly highlighted one of our challenges in Nigeria. Yes, we have power deficiencies, but look at the last five years since we had the discos and the generating plants there has been increased power availability in the country. So, there is a progression happening in Nigeria, it is not as bad as it used to be in the past. But when you look at it from a data centre perspective, what we have done in Rack Centre, rather than see it as a challenge, we have seen it as an opportunity. We work very strongly with very diligent partners in ensuring that we have very robust technology architecture, power architecture and also power mix. With the clear robust solution that we have put in place, we have been able to take advantage of that challenge to provide quality service, 100 percent uptime, which is comparable to any of the facilities you find anywhere in the world.
Cost of running generators
In a data centre landscape, what is important is how efficient the system is; the technology that we use runs at an average 1.5 PUE (power usage effectiveness). The global average is 1.8, the lower you are to run, the more efficient you are. Standard traditional data centres run at 2.53, we run at 1.5 and there have been instances where we run as low as 1.3. This shows that we are clearly efficient. We are the
most efficient data centre in Africa today. That is proven, it is real-time and that shows you the efficiency of how we utilise our power. Now, that efficiency clearly transmits into the charges that the clients get because, based on efficiency, the correlation of efficiency and price and also the amount of space and number of clients we have, we are able to spread that cost. So, the answer to your question is that we are as efficient as any system running or any system in advanced countries.
Plan to run on electricity
Yes, we have got a very clear road map in our energy solution. We are working closely with Ikeja Electric. We have signed a contract to deliver 33KV direct line to the facility running on bilateral feeds, meaning that one field is coming from Alausa and the other is coming from Maryland, guaranteeing us 85 percent of availability, which is 20 hours a day. So that project is ongoing, we should be commissioning that in the fourth quarter. Also, we have also got in-line in our trajectory for power solution, gas solution coming in 2019/2020. We are currently working with Gaslink. There is gas in the neighbourhood which will pipe in gas directly to this facility as well.
Hosting data locally
I think it is always important not to look at cost but if you want to look at cost compared to what is being done in other parts of the world, I can clearly tell you that, from a cost perspective, we are competitive. Mind you, there might be one or two services that are slightly expensive but overall we are very competitive. What we have done here is that we have put together what is called Cloud on Ground. It is very competitive. There are key things you have to look at when you are talking of price, when you are trying to compare it with what is abroad. We have got infrastructural deficiencies here. So, we tend to spend more in ensuring that those challenges of infrastructure are met. For cost, capital investment has to go into that. So, when you take account of all these various challenges, there might be some added cost to it. But, over time, with elasticity in terms of economics and the adoption of cloud technology and SMEs, more enterprises coming on board and adopting cloud, the cost spreads and eventually thins out and you get better value.
Hosting data abroad, is it more efficient?
No, it is a myth. There are lots of advantages hosting locally here, for one, there is what is called latency. Latency is around how long it takes when you request for information it goes through the internet to wherever the network is to transmit data back to you. So, when you host locally it is instantaneous so, there is no latency issue compared to that. You get better experience use as well, you find out that, a lot of the time, if you are trying to access a certain website or you are trying to download certain things, it is not instantaneous and that is because they are not hosted locally. So, user experience is better. Also, it creates job opportunities for us here. If you are hosting here, it grants and provides the opportunity to grow our workforce as well. We have got to also understand that a lot of the small and medium-scale enterprises today do not have access to foreign exchange, they struggle to get dollars but when you host locally you pay in naira and eliminate that issue of currency deficiency. Also, we are building our economy, we need to stop sending our money outside to buy services, rather we should put it in our economy to grow it.
Building data centre
Building a data centre is a very expensive venture; it costs millions of dollars. If you are talking naira, you are looking at billions of naira to build a proper, certified data centre. So, I think the first thing you look at is, why you need to build a data centre. Sometimes, people see it as a thing of pride to own a data centre but globally that is not the way things are done anymore. Collocation has become the trend and the simple reason is in terms of efficiency of capital. Businesses should actually focus on what they are very good at doing and leave the experts like Rack Centre to provide those data centre services for them. Secondly, it is very complex to run and successfully manage a data centre. The skills set that is required is extremely difficult to find, so, you tend to find out that when people build their own data centre, after 12 months, they start to see degradation in terms of how the facility is being run. They don’t have very clear policies procedures and controls in place to make sure that they deliver the quality output that is required for the business, but here in Rack Centre that is what we live and breathe every day.
We have the highest skilled individuals working for us, they are highly trained. We have very strong policies, controls and procedures. That is why we have been very successful. As an operating business, we have never had a single down time in the last five years of existence. You cannot get 100 per cent all the time through luck. It is based on your skill set of people, processes and controls you put in place.
Rates for SMEs
SMEs are the heart of the country. They contribute immensely to the country. So, what we have done in Rack Centre is build what we call Cloud on Ground service. Cloud on Ground is a service with a clear ecosystem of cloud solutions and we have very tailored solutions for the SMEs. What does that mean for the SMEs? It means that they do not need to worry about capital expenditure to go and buy servers or buy licenses they do not require. They can get infrastructure on demand, they can get software on demand and they can effectively grow the business very quickly as their customer base grows; that means they do not have to invest in capital, they pay as they need. So, if you need one megabyte or one gigabyte you simply pay for those services that you need. So, they free their hard services for them to move their business and move forward. Then, when you talk about SMEs, they can access from remote locations, the great thing about our centre is we are highly neutral and we are the most connected data center in sub-Saharan Africa. We have got 5 sea cables running round the Atlantic Ocean, all directly connected to the center and we got pretty much over 27 local and international carriers over here. So, regardless of where you are in the country, you can easily access and consume cloud services from Rack Centre.
In a data centre industry uptime institute is the authorised global body that sets the standards of data centres and you have got from Tier I to Tier IV. Tier III is the highest level you can get for an enterprise data centres. Now, Rack Centre, we are fundamentally secure in the way we provide our services and we are grounded by ensuring that we provide the quality services in every aspect of our operations. Because of that we have gone through the certification process, not just because of certification but to actually validate how we operate our facility. So, we are the first-Tier III design certified data centre in sub-Saharan Africa. Also, we are the first-Tier III constructed facility in Africa. What does that mean? It gives comfort to international companies that want to come to Africa because, traditionally, companies that come from outside are skeptical about the quality of services in Africa but once they know that you are certified, immediately it tells them that the facility they are coming to is as good as the facility they have from where they are in the world. It gives them that comfort, it makes it easier for them to deal with and provide those services from a reliable facility as well.