Businessday, September 19, 2017, by Editor

Tunde Coker is the Managing Director of Rack Centre, West Africa’s premium data centre and collocation services, provider. In this interview, he speaks on the importance of certification in data centre management and the need for organisations operating in Nigeria to host data locally, among other issues. Excerpts:

Q-Rack Centre recently attained the Tier Certification of Constructed Facilities (TCCF), which is the first of its kind for data centre operators in West Africa. What standards did you meet to have attained this?

The TCCF certification is an advanced certification for Tier III Data Centre operators and the Tier III is a validation that the company is fundamentally fit to provide global standard quality of service at 99.9 per cent. Since its launch in October 2013, Rack Centre has operated at 100 per cent uptime without downtime, because we operate as a Tier III constructed facility. Before the TCCF is awarded to any Tier III Data Centre Operator, the Uptime Institute, which is the global body that carries out data centre certification, will first do a detailed check of the facilities to ensure that the data centre is operating to best global standard. The entire process of the certification was a forensic analysis of the facilities by experts of Uptime Institute from the US and UK. We met the criteria of being a true Tier 111 data centre operator that does not cut corners and does not compromise on the quality of services rendered. Any organisation can say they are Tier 111 data centre but what matters is the TCCF certification.

Q-How would the TCCF certification positively affect the operations Rack Centre to its customers and Nigeria’s economy?

The certification means several things to us at Rack Centre. It means authenticity, such that our customers will know that we are committed to everything we say and do as a data centre service provider. It also means to us that our customers will enjoy quality service from us and it means that our customers are coming into high standard facilities that have been certified globally. It also shows that Nigeria now has global standard facilities that could host local data locally, without organisations operating in Nigeria, going abroad to host their data. With the certification, Rack Centre is now the most certified constructed facility in the whole of West Africa. The award is also recognition of the fact that Nigeria can deliver this type of technology and operate it successfully. There are other Uptime Certifications that is the gold category and we intend to have that certification in the next six to eight months.

Q-What is the difference between design certification and constructed certification, and where did Rack Centre start from in all of these?

The first step in TCCF certification is the design certification before the constructed certification.

Rack Centre started with the design certification and we built it to standard, and we doubled the capacity of our facilities from 119 racks to 255 racks. Before the constructed certification, we did a self-testing before inviting the Uptime Institute for verification and certification of constructed facility. Our design extension was revalidated in July last year, before the TCCF certification.  Throughout the period of the design extension, we did not have one second of downtime because it is a pure Tier III data centre. There is a time limit for the attainment of TCCF, which is determined by the Uptime Institute. They have the authority to withdraw the design certification if the organisation stayed too long to get itself prepared for the constructed certification and the time limit is determined by the Uptime Institute. Again the TCCF certification is not one-off. The standard is certified every year and if for any reason the organisation falls short of the standard in any given year, the certificate is withdrawn immediately.

Q-With global standard data centres like Rack Center, do you think organisations operating in Nigeria will now start to host their data locally?

With the TCCF certification, there is absolutely no need for any organisation to continue hosting their data outside the country because we now have the quality and standard, which they are looking for outside the country. Today, Rack Centre is hosting the Internet Point Exchange of Nigeria (IXPN) and this is helping organisations to localise their traffic in Nigeria because we are a true carrier-neutral data centre operator. Any pan African bank that wants to host and connect its branches, can actually do so from our facilities in Nigeria because FinTech Application in Nigeria is domiciled at Rack Centre. People can actually host their global cloud from Rack Centre facilities in Nigeria. Also, web hosting could be done from our facilities in Nigeria, and the latency is very low. We are also less expensive when compared to the cost of hosting data abroad.

Q-Recently the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) mandated all banks to host their data locally in Nigeria. How will the TCCF certification compliment what the CBN is trying to drive?

Our TCCF certification will further give CBN the confidence to hold firmly to its mandate because we can be dependable. The banks can depend on us to host their data with Rack Centre in Nigeria because we have been certified by the Uptime Institute, which is a testament to the fact that we can host the data of commercial banks in our facility in Nigeria. If a data centre is down for few minutes, it can affect the performance of the bank and every other organisation that has its data hosted in such facility because it will affect the latency period. But now that we have the constructed certification, banks can rest assured of quality data services from us. With us, there is reliability and reduction in the cost of service. So there is a systemic impact of having a reliable Tier III Data Centre facility in Nigeria.

Q-How will this certification help to address the issue of big data growth in the country?

Big data is part of Rack Centre business and our goal is to grow and host big data of organisations in our facilities in Nigeria. Big data is trending now and every organisation strives to grow its data. Everybody is connected to the big data analytics. The mobile phones of subscribers are constantly sending data; they are used to take photo shots and sending them through the internet or Bluetooth and via the social media like Facebook and WhatsApp.

But that continues to grow as our broadband penetration continues to deepen. Analysis shows that for every 1 per cent of broadband penetration, there is over 1 per cent growth of GDP. In advanced countries, it can be up to 2 per cent growth in GDP. It is one thing to have broadband penetration and another thing to have a reliable power distribution. So we need data centers to actually drive broadband penetration in the country. As this systemic effect grows, businesses stand to grow immensely. As businesses grow, organisations have come to realise that they cannot afford to expand their data centre, so they need collocation of data centre facilities, which Rack Centre offers. So, the more quality of collocation data centers we have the better for us. So, big data is going to have big systemic impact on the country’s economy, especially with our huge population number.

Q- If the attainment of TCCF certification attracts more customers, how prepared is Rack Center to accommodate the influx of these new customers?

We are expecting influx of new customers as well as surge in the demand for our services, since we have been certified, but being a modular organisation, we have nothing to be worried about because the modular nature of our business will allow us to expand with ease. We saw this coming and we have prepared for expansion and the doubling of our facilities. We have already done the design expansion and we are ready to upgrade our facilities.

We have expanded to 255 rack capacity and within six months, we can double that capacity to over 530 racks, including our power expansion plans. We can expand our rack facilities to 3000 racks and we have the technology, power and funding blueprint to do so.

Q- Do data centre operators have issues with collocation as a result of limited infrastructure as in the case of telecommunications operators?

We have sufficient collocation facilities and capacities and we will be delighted to collocate the telecoms operators on our facilities. What we need do is to expand the capacity to accommodate collocation of telcos. We are carrier neutral and any telco could come to our centre to collocate. Our facilities do not encourage competition among the telcos who will want to collocate on our facilities. Rather than the telcos building data expansion facilities, they can actually collocate on our facilities, bearing in mind that they will not need to worry about the challenges of connectivity and collocation, and this will help them focus on their core business. We have the facilities that will make telcos to expand and operate more efficiently.