East Africa Data Centre: critical connectivity
As the first commercial and carrier neutral facility built in Eastern Africa, at 2,00sqm, East Africa Data Centre (EADC) remains the largest data centre in the region.
The data centre market in Africa is growing as IT becomes an enabler for businesses to improve efficiency and introduce automation across their operations.
This has seen major cloud and content players turn their attentions towards data centre providers in Africa. These include the likes of Microsoft, which has recently added data centre space in South Africa to host Microsoft Cloud as a direct response to market demand.
Watching over this trend is the General Manager of EADC, Dan Kwach, who believes EADC is strongly positioned to meet the growing demand for data centre space in Africa.
“Currently larger data service and cloud providers reach out to DC operators, like us, so that they can meet more of their client needs in Africa,” he says. “That’s why we must align what we do with the expectations of these large players.”
EADC is located at Sameer Industrial Park, Nairobi. This is described as the “perfect hosting location” due to its access to carrier networks across Kenya, including Mombasa, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
This location presented EADC with the opportunity to become the most connected data centre site in Eastern Africa, and was recognised for being so with a GTB Innovation Award in 2014.
“Connectivity and security are critical components to hosting services. The EADC is carrier-neutral and having that open access model is also critical,” Kwach says.
EADC hosts all of the local providers and ISPs in Nairobi as well as 20 international networks. This allows EADC to have the widest possible reach.
“You cannot build a data centre without networks,” Kwach says. “The more network service providers you have, the better it is for customers.”
The mystery of a data centre
Kwach comes from a background in network engineering and core network configuration. This brought him into contact with various vendors and OEMs and he gained hands-on experience of critical network failures and problem solving.
Confronted with the challenge to design and build a data centre, the first task for Kwach was to “identify and demystify” the very concept of a carrier grade or industry standard data centre.
“What are the features of a carrier grade data centre facility? Which are the ideal industry standards and what is meant by Tier I, II or even III? We had to really educate ourselves on what we were getting into,” he says.
Part of this process saw Kwach travel the world and explore data centres in the UK, South Africa and Dubai.
“My other challenge was to understand what the value in a commercial data centre was, not just from a technical aspect but to ensure alignment to a customer need.”
As product manager, Kwach was tasked with developing a business plan and commercial strategy for EADC. The first task? Settling on a colocation site, which could host multiple network service providers and offer primary or secondary hosting to enterprise customers.
EADC was the first carrier neutral facility built in the region, and it just hit another milestone having joined an elite list of independently certified data centre facilities by Uptime Institute – the leading data centre certification and accreditation body. “This is a stamp of approval for EADC having met Tier III requirements as a concurrently maintainable facility,” says Kwach
The facility is currently in the process of completing the requirements for ISO 27001 Certification – a globally acclaimed information security management standard that forms a basis of securing critical operations, functions and businesses against risk.
But the work is not over for EADC. As competition heats up in the data centre space, EADC must ensure it has a strategy to maintain its position as a regional market leader.
“We are thinking more and more about our product development,” says Kwach.
To ensure it has a long term strategy, EADC is finding ways to add value added services, build and offer enterprise grade IT services and meet the demands of leading content and cloud services.
The company is also thinking of expanding into new geographies and markets to remain at the cutting edge of hosting services regionally and globally.
Increasingly companies are starting to recognise the hosting opportunities in Kenya and the rest of East Africa.
“We have the first mover advantage, which has presented us with a number of opportunities and helped us capture of a large chunk of the market share,” he says.
Not only is EADC the most connected facility in the region but it also has a wealth of experience in the data centre space, which gives it an advantage in supporting customers and continuously upgrading its products and services.
“It provides us with comfort now and in the near future with regards to our position in the market,” says Kwach.
A hot topic
As the data centre industry continues to grow so does the need for greater energy efficiency.
More than 90% of the energy output in a data centre is through heat and power generation. EADC sources its power from Kenya Power; a supplier and operator of electricity distribution systems throughout Kenya.
A large proportion of electricity in Kenya is generated through hydroelectric power generation.
“The most critical element of our commercial success evolves around cost management,” Kwach states. “The cost of that power is very high, so we are often thinking about alternative sources of energy. It’s a really interesting space right now.”
EADC is already looking at introducing solar panels and how it can improve its energy efficiency and carbon emissions. But it won’t stop there. EADC is also advising customers to use IT equipment that has been manufactured with biodegradable materials as part of a green initiative.
So where next for the EADC? Kwach aims to keep it simple.
“We go where there is opportunity and where there is demand,” he says. “Our connectivity and value-added services provide a one-stop shop to meet the already significant and growing demand that we see. Our challenge is to innovate and broaden our geographical reach so that we support all our customers, employees and governmental and non-governmental organisations in their digital journey. In doing this we are delivering our vision of “Building Africa’s digital future.”