Time-sensitive apps propel edge data centres in SA

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 19 Jul 2023
By processing data closer to the source, edge data centres help reduce network congestion.
By processing data closer to the source, edge data centres help reduce network congestion.

South Africa and the rest of the African continent are witnessing a large-scale move towards edge data centres, as more firms run next-generation applications.

This is according to panellists during a discussion on the African data centre market, at the Pan-African Data Centres Conference, held recently in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Martien Arts, director of mission-critical facilities at engineering consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV, and Sanjay Kumar Sainani, global SVP and CTO of Digital Power at Huawei, provided an overview of the continent’s booming data centre market and the growing shift towards edge data centres.

According to the panellists, edge data centre operators are increasingly investing in the African market, as demand soars for advanced technologies and telecommunications, and tighter security, with companies looking for more control over their data and applications.

Market intelligence research firm DC Byte says SA is at the forefront of edge data centre development in Africa, surpassing other countries in terms of progress. Out of an estimated 40 to 50 live edge data centres in Africa, approximately 80% to 90% are located in SA, says the firm.

Sainani noted that edge data centres are becoming the next thing investors are looking out for on the continent, due to their ability to enable immediate delivery of services, with minimal latency.

“Edge is an interpretation of where you are – it could be near the edge, on the edge, or at the far edge. It’s all about where you position your infrastructure to deliver the high performance required.

“With the use of technologies like telemedicine and mobile money, Africa has been leapfrogging in technological change. Investments in edge allow data centres to offer their services right in the centre of where consumers are situated, and provide them with those services in the shortest time possible,” explained Sainani.

While hyperscale data centres are significantly larger than edge data centres, edge data centres’ ability to combine edge computing and hyperscale connectivity enable the processing of large volumes of critical data at the edge, allowing time-sensitive deployment of applications, he added.

Discussing the challenges faced by edge data centre operators in Africa, Arts said skills shortages, inconsistent power supply and supply chain complexities are major hindrances to the sector moving forward.

“When we do a project in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, we realise there are supply chain issues, but they vary according to the region.

“Importing products from outside the country and also putting the infrastructure together becomes an issue because of the skills shortage. Edge is a combination of data centre and consistent power supply, and both lines have to be willing to collaborate for efficiency.”

In an interview with ITWeb, Ed Galvin, CEO of DC Byte, predicted the expansion of edge data centres in SA is set to accelerate. He pointed to new initiatives like Open Access Data Centres' plan to deploy over 100 edge data centres in major local cities, which could triple the current live capacity in the coming years.

Ed Galvin, CEO of DC Byte.
Ed Galvin, CEO of DC Byte.

Kenya and Nigeria have already launched their first certified edge data centres, while Egypt currently provides an edge node, he stated.

While SA has been seeing a high rate of growth in hyperscale data centres, their difference to edge data centres is that they are not situated on the edge, but rather, the edge begins where the hyperscale data centres end.

Galvin believes the significant advancements in technology, telecommunications and digital services are among the factors that contribute to SA’s increased edge data centre investments, propelling the growth of the data centre industry in the country.

“Edge data centres offer several advantages over traditional data centres. First, their proximity to end-users reduces latency and improves network performance, resulting in faster access to data and applications, enhancing user experiences and enabling real-time interactions.

“Additionally, by processing data closer to the source, edge data centres help reduce network congestion and the volume of data transmitted over long distances.”

Edge data centres are crucial in supporting emerging technologies, such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Their low latency and real-time processing capabilities are essential for these technologies to function optimally, he added.

“As the digital landscape continues to evolve, edge data centres are poised to play a significant role on the continent.

“The proliferation of edge data centres across Africa presents opportunities for 5G operators, fibre operators and internet service providers. These facilities offer colocation services, rooftop access and high-speed network interconnectivity between sites, enabling diverse routing options,” concluded Galvin.