Ezekiel Egboye is the Director of Operations at Rack Centre, a Tier III certified premium data centre and collocation service provider. In this exclusive interview with JUMOKE AKIYODE-LAWANSON of Businessday Newspaper, the technology infrastructure expert talks about the need for collocation, the processes and future of data centre operations in Nigeria, and how Rack Centre has been able to stay ahead with infrastructural and operational distinction.
With your wealth of experience in technology infrastructure, could you please tell us how your expertise has helped in the management of Rack Centre, which is probably one of the largest Data centres in Africa?
My background has been really around infrastructure, implementation, delivery and also running an operations department. I have worked in multiple companies in Europe and North America and obviously, over the years, I’ve been able to build a very strong understanding of how to manage people, technology and also create value for the customers. So, when I look at my experience over the years, compare to what we are doing over here, I have realised that every continent is different and every country is unique. Definitely, Nigeria is unique and from a Nigerian perspective, we have got key issues that we normally experience. However, Rack Centre is well positioned to deal with these issues as they come.
What are the unique challenges faced while managing the operations of a data centre in Nigeria?
When I look at the challenges in Nigeria compare to the global market, they are not really unique to Nigeria so to say, however, they are more pronounced. Power for example, is always a problem and it is the key problem, not just in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole. But it is also important for us to highlight that power is not only unique as a challenge in Nigeria but is unique as well in other parts of the world. Recently, the Atlanta Airport in the United States of America which is one of the busiest airports, experienced a blackout, even British Airways experienced a power failure which brought down their data centre for over 24 hours. What I am trying to say is that, although Nigeria’s power issues are on a larger scale and more constant, these issues are not particularly unique to this country. Another major issue in Nigeria is that we tend to have fibre cuts, but the good thing is that in Rack Centre, we have positioned ourselves very strongly to be able to deal with normal issues that we face in Nigeria. Our power architecture is very robust and detailed, also, from a connectivity standpoint, we currently host almost all local and even some international carriers. This gives our clients the luxury to be able to have multiple connectivity providers, and should they have any issue, they can easily switch over to another provider.
How was Rack Centre able to get its tier III data centre certification and what is the advantage of this certification to its operations?
Uptime is a very important institution when we look at the data centre landscape, so it is very important for us to acknowledge the Tier III certification. Currently, there is no collocation data centre in Africa that has achieved a Tier III constructed facility. Rack Centre is the first and only collocation data centre to have achieved this. However, there are other data centres in Africa that have gone through the design certification which is great and is the first step in the process of the Tier III certification, but the core of the certification is around the TCCF as a constructed facility, and I would urge other data centres in the country to go through that process of actually becoming constructed certified because it gives Nigeria a better place in the global industry. Rack Centre has been able to put Nigeria on the map when you look at data centre landscape, and the more constructed facilities that we have in the country enhances the Nigerian profile in the data centre world. The key thing that this certification has done for us is that it has brought credibility to what we do. It also brings investor confidence from the global businesses that are looking to invest in Africa. Because we have been certified to that level, we are comparable with any of the facilities globally, so foreign businesses that are talking to us, feel very comfortable and confident to host their infrastructure with us.
How has Rack Centre been able to avoid a failure considering the challenge of insufficient power supply in Nigeria, knowing that a data centre must be kept running 24hours everyday with no single downtime?
Rack centre is built primarily on international best practice. So, from the start, we ensured that our facility is operated in line with international best practice, from the construction of the facility, to the operational delivery. We believe very strongly in four core principles in operations. They are; the people, processes, control and the technology. Without any of these four processes, the probability of having a downtime is very high. 70 percent of downtime globally is caused by human error, so if you don’t have the right processes in place, you’re bound to have human error.
What do you think Nigeria can do to attract and retain personnel to control the said processes and how has Rack Centre been able to attract the right skill set?
Data centre process is really a new service in Nigeria. 10 years ago, you probably would not find any collocation data centre or any Tier III designed data centre. With the fact that it is quite new in Nigeria, we tend to find issues around having the right skill set. But we have done in Rack Centre since inception is that we have been able to build credible and highly talented resources by providing them with the right platform, the right business organization and also the right leadership. With that, we have been able to ensure that there is continuous training and innovation. We have also ensured that the business provides these people with the right tools to be able to successfully carry out their duties and also continuously motivate them to be able to do more. We focus on local talent and train them both locally and abroad when needed. We also ensure that the training provided to them are very relevant technical trainings which are specific to the industry and to our technology, because the technology we have in Rack Centre is very unique and not the standard technology that you find in most data centres, so we can’t train them with generic technology.
What is the interconnection relationship between Rack Centre and the internet exchange point of Nigeria (IXPN)?
The internet exchange point of Nigeria is pretty much the connectivity service where members within that service come together and provide connectivity which reduces latency. Rack Centre is the first collocation data centre to have the internet exchange point resided here, and also recently, we have been given a mandate in conjunction with the IXPN to become the regional exchange. From Rack Centre, you are able to interconnect and change packets seamlessly with other regional exchanges. Another key thing is the carrier neutrality of Rack Centre which makes us unique because it is not owned by a telco. If you look at global collocation services, you will find out that they don’t have any affiliation to, or are not owned by, or have stake in any of the telco providers. This is important because as a true carrier neutral data centre, you are able to attract almost all the telecoms operators and internet service providers (ISPs) to come down to your facility and provide connectivity for your clients. Today, in Rack Centre we have over 25 ISPs and carriers in Nigeria and also other Pan African carriers. Our neutrality also gives the service providers the comfort to know that we are not chasing the same business with them and we are able to provide connectivity through all the five undersea cables landed in Nigeria which gives our clients the ability to have redundancy through cross connection if there is an issue with any of the submarine cables.
The Nigerian government has been clamouring for hosting of data in the country for a while now, however, most private companies still host abroad, how is Rack Centre responding to this issue?
It is a great thing that the government requesting that data should be hosted in the country, and that is what is done globally. For us, it has been a blessing, because it has increased our footprint and has increased the enquiries we get and our customer base. The key value proposition that Rack Centre places at the fore front as a business resonates with clients who are looking for reliability. However, since the inception of Rack Centre in October 2013, we have not had a single down time. This tells the clients that we are as reliable as where they are coming from globally. We are also able to aggregate multiple carrier requests and do a deal with the ISP or the carrier provider and then share the bulk deals amongst our clients and that is a key thing for all the banks, as it reduces about 30 to 35 percent of their back haul costs.
With only five data centres in Nigeria currently, do you think the country has enough capacity to host all data?
I believe that we do because data centres are able to expand. Rack Centre for instance, is a very agile business in the sense that we always adapt and look for ways to innovate. As a modular system, we are able to scale based on demand. We have doubled our capacity since inception and that is based on growth, and we have got a very great trajectory that clearly shows that at full build, we will be providing three thousand racks in this location. We have a land space of 20,000 square meters, which is able to build three thousand racks and over eight megawatts of IT power. In terms of scalability, we are able to support that growth in the country, and I believe that the others should be able to expand as well, even though their builds are normally the traditional build which gives them some limitation of expanding quickly based on demand.
How do you see the future of data centre operations in Nigeria, is there room for more players?
Yes, there is definitely room for more players and we do encourage other players to come in and provide the service. From an operational standpoint, I think the Nigerian customers are becoming very savvy so there is going to be a lot of pressure for operations to ensure that they meet those international best standards, which is really a good thing. I am believing that it will actually up the game and make the data centres in the country today, focus a lot around ensuring operational efficiency and ensuring that they have the right team.