Open Access Data Centres – Africa’s Digital Heartbeat

Open Access Data Centres – Africa’s Digital Heartbeat

OADC’s newly appointed CEO, Ayotunde Coker shares his vision for Africa’s future and the role OADC will play in the country’s transformation

Late 2021 saw WIOCC - the leading player in the deployment of carrier-scale, future-proofed network infrastructure into Africa - announce US$200mn in funding to launch a new pan-African data centre operator through WIOCC Group company Open Access Data Centres (OADC). Along with this announcement, OADC revealed its plans to invest US$500mn over the next five years in deploying and operating a network of world-class data centres across the continent. 

Just over six months later, OADC’s newly appointed CEO, Ayotunde Coker, shares his plans to drive Africa’s digital ecosystem forward: “We want to build at speed, expanding the market and delivering customer-centric value propositions. In Africa, the future is cloud. If you consider the business model for mobile telephony in Africa, its success was ensured by a pay-as-you-go charging model. The cloud is the most effective way to deliver technology solutions to customers – and again, is based on a pay-as-you-grow, pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you-need model.”

“We see significant growth and further opportunity in the hyperscale cloud data centre market. Our new facility in Lagos, for example is being built in phases to match demand, but can ultimately scale to scale to over 20MW, capable of supporting over 5,000 racks. However, not every location requires facilities of this size. In more regional business hubs, a medium-sized data centre (or ‘midi’); circa 200 to 400-rack facilities, for instance, is more appropriate, and for smaller edge workloads, edge facilities of up to 150kW critical power support services, applications and network extension closer to the network edge; so, uniquely in Africa, we are doing all of this.”

Coker was appointed to guide and lead the OADC initiatives that will play a major role in accelerating Africa’s digital transformation, through construction and operation of a pan-African network of Tier-III certified data centre facilities. The organisation is rolling out its unique core-to-edge open-access data centre ecosystem, comprising a combination of hyperscale, regional and edge data centres.

Upon his appointment, Coker said: “I am delighted to be leading OADC in transforming Africa’s digital capabilities, developing vibrant interconnected ecosystems based on deployment of world-class, open-access digital infrastructure at strategic interconnection points throughout the continent. An opportunity for Africa to leapfrog the world.”

Now, the innovative CEO is firmly engaged in delivering OADC’s plans for Africa’s transformation and is excited by the opportunity presented to him at OADC, as he notes: “The key thing with WIOCC being the leading player in the deployment of carrier-scale, future-proofed open network infrastructure into Africa is that it opens up options for interconnectivity between data centres and right through to the point of use. There is great synergy there. Looking towards the future, WIOCC and OADC have been chosen to land the new >100Tbps Equiano and 2Africa undersea cables at different points in Africa. I think that's a really great achievement, and an excellent anchor point in terms of building out Open Access Data Centres.”

OADC: setting new standards of excellence in Africa

With 35 years of international experience across Europe, the USA, Asia and Africa, Coker knows the importance of giving customers best-in-class services: “Quality is very important in what we do. With many, many years in the industry – particularly in Africa – it has become clear to me that we have to build with quality moving forward. It is so important that the quality is there from the beginning.”

“We will set new standards for excellence in client delivery and service, whilst also setting new standards for the interconnection of digital ecosystems to ensure quality across the continent. In this it is vital to have the support of a great team. I am delighted with the team we have in place, and I will continue to bring in talent in key areas to ensure we are able to deliver on this promise. We will continue to invest in sustainable engineering, sales and marketing, and to move quickly to address new client requirements. We know exactly what we need to do to put the right scale of facility into the right locations. And we can bring it all together for clients in a very flexible way through the unique core-to-edge architecture we're putting in place, that includes open interconnection across the continent,” adds Coker.

Technology is crucial to the success of OADC as it looks to transform Africa’s digital ecosystems. Its OADC Durban facility and 23 edge data centres are already operational, with new core sites coming online shortly in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Lagos, Nigeria.

“We're going to see the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming much more important, especially to organisations operating at the edge. Businesses need to have much more creativity in doing things efficiently, and that's where IoT can help. As well as supporting this, we also anticipate implementing artificial intelligence in optimising what we do and how we do it,” says Coker.

“But, to implement this technology properly, we need to start with the intent, create the context, set the outcomes, and only then we will be able to maximise operational efficiency. Innovation in operating models is a subject at the forefront of my thoughts, especially considering the environment that we're working with. Simply accepting and maintaining the status quo is not always good enough.”

To bolster its technological capabilities and accelerate its journey to a connected Africa, OADC relies on its partners for support. Coker is firmly invested in harnessing enduring partnerships: “As we are building ecosystems right across Africa, we work with a variety of organisations – be they technology partners, interconnect partners, carrier partners and so on. It's going to be a really exciting combining a whole range of partnerships in different parts of the delivery value chain.”

As an example, the company has partnered with Saradan for its expertise across the entire data centre ecosystem: “They bring excellent experience on the engineering front - they've been there, done it before, and they really bring valuable insight into what needs to be done. That “right first time” quality really has been my experience of working with them.”

Key to successful partnerships is excellence. “Excellence is something we encourage and will continuously strive for within OADC”, and Coker expects this from those he partners with, too: “We have the same expectations for them as we do of ourselves. Cultural alignment helps, but a collective ability and desire to learn from each other is also helpful. I also think open graciousness is key; something I really do believe in.”

Sustainably connecting Africa

The culture of excellence Coker is cultivating within OADC is designed to ensure that it delivers a truly innovative and client-centric data centre experience; one that puts its clients at the centre of Africa’s digital transformation.

“The quality of client interaction has to be such that every touchpoint is an outstanding experience; something we work at continuously and embody in our culture. Our client comes first; working with us has to be a totally different experience compared to any other operator, so those are the expectations I put in place here at OADC. We have to underpin the delivery of this expectation through the people we employ, ensuring that every single person in this organisation has the ability and desire to delight each client, and they have to be fully engaged in that process. Our passion is not for the short-term sale, but for the long-term relationships forged through outstanding client experience” explains Coker.

Coker does, however, recognise that there will always be scope for improvement and that mistakes may be made for OADC to improve in supporting to the best of its ability Africa’s transformation : “It's a constant learning experience. When it doesn't go right the first time, we also have to be good at fixing issues very, very quickly. Sometimes, when things don't go right, the speed and quality of your response can result in outstanding client experience. It’s important to learn and build a virtuous cycle of that learning. In fact, the next innovation might come out of lessons learned from what didn't go right the first time. We must also understand that was acceptable yesterday, is no longer good enough today. A spirit of learning and striving for relentless continuous improvement is how we will achieve the bar of excellence we are setting for ourselves.”

At the heart of OADC’s ambition is the organisation's sustainability ambitions. With many organisations across the world planning to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the data centre industry must increasingly design facilities that conserve energy, are energy efficient and use renewable energy sources.

“There are some things all companies can do to become more sustainable – take online meetings, for example, which can drastically reduce carbon emissions otherwise generated by travel - but that’s not enough by itself; we have to go beyond that.”

“We are recruiting a Head of Environment, Sustainability & Governance (ESG) to be primarily responsible for ESG and the sustainability agenda at OADC,” adds the CEO. “This will give us focus at the senior level, as well as providing us with a focal point for our engineering, innovation and processes in terms of sustainability. We plan to fully embed the resulting principles in our culture to ensure that what we do is inherently sustainable.”

He concludes: “Sustainability also gives us the opportunity to continuously innovate. A lot of what we will do, and the technology we use to implement our sustainability agenda, has yet to be invented or put into full production, particularly in the environment in which we operate. Our key opportunity is to optimise everything we do for the benefit of our clients and the environment in which we operate; it's an exciting time for OADC.”

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