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SA alone accounts for majority of Africa’s data centre capacity

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Despite the wave of investments in data centre infrastructure in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in recent years, there’s still a big data centre capacity deficit in the region as a whole.

This is according to the latest insights in the Africa Digital Infrastructure Market Analysis, which measures the scope of digital infrastructure in the SSA region.

The report, compiled by Digitalthings on behalf of Digital Council Africa, focuses on specific digital infrastructure categories, including fibre, fixed wireless access, data centres, submarine cables and tower infrastructure.

A snapshot of digital infrastructure shows the SSA region has 79 co-location data centres in 14 countries, compared to the global figure of 4 854 co-location data centres in 129 countries.

Expanding on the report’s findings, Bora Varliyagci, CEO of Digitalthings and lead researcher, says when compared to the current South African data centre landscape, which is considered to be at a medium level of maturity, SSA is still lagging about 1 000MW of capacity, or 700 facilities.

To be on par with the Netherlands, which is considered a mature market in the data centre ecosystem, the region would need about 7 000 data centre facilities, or 6 000MW of data centre core computing power, notes Varliyagci.

“Within this range, there’s definitely a deficit that is creating quite a lot of demand from a data centre infrastructure point of view, and the demand is being fulfilled by international investment in particular.”

Varliyagci notes there’s big investment coming to the continent, starting with key markets like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, which are the leading three markets.

“South Africa, for example, has most of the data centre whitespace from a co-location point of view,” he says, noting broadband penetration, maturity and submarine reach among the reasons for data centre investment activity in the country.

“There’s big diversity in terms of submarine footprint reach, reasonable broadband penetration in those countries, and they are more prepared for adoption of cloud services, and the network architectures are moving to cloud in those countries, which is driving data centre investments.”

Uneven distribution

Overall, the report notes Africa has an estimated 140 000 square metres of data centre whitespaces. In population terms, this is the same amount of data centre space serving Switzerland’s 8.5 million people that serves the continent’s 1.26 billion people.

It further highlights that data centre capacity is not evenly distributed on the continent, and South Africa alone accounted for more than two-thirds of the continent’s capacity. The Southern African nation is considered as the most advanced data centre market in Africa.

West Africa currently delivers less than 10% of the total African data centre capacity, and the majority of data content consumed in Africa is hosted outside the continent and the market is severely underserved, it states.

According to Varliyagci, other studies also show the continent has big deficit when compared to markets like India, which are considered as emerging from a data centre maturity point of view. “Even comparing to India, we have almost 80 facility deficit or 120MW deficit.”

The report states: “Hand in hand with other digital infrastructure, data centres play a critical role in ensuring Africa is not left behind in the race towards establishing global digital economies, as it is fundamental to reducing latency, optimising intra-African traffic flows and slashing operating costs in the broader African economic supply chain.”

Light at the end of the tunnel?

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as Digital Council’s report expects Africa’s data centre supply to grow by another 25% in the next two years.

The report notes that some of the recent data centre infrastructure investment activities and announced plans are encouraging for the continent.

Says Varliyagci: “We have seen some of the large international investment partners providing funding to data centre deployment and we are expecting that investment wave to go on in key markets. To start with, we have also seen some of the other key markets like DRC being targets that are already staged with smaller facilities. Definitely, we’ll see lots of data centre deployments.”

In the case of South Africa, the country has increasingly become a data centre hub, with hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft already having established data centre regions in SA.

Earlier this month, US-based provider of hyperscale data centres, Vantage Data Centres, announced the beginning of construction on its new R15 billion data centre campus in the country.

Likewise, US-based multinational Oracle revealed it is set to build a data centre facility in Johannesburg – its first on the African continent.

Locally, systems integrator Dimension Data is building its own data centre, while carrier- and cloud-neutral co-location data centre solutions provider Teraco recently announced the completion of the first phase of the Cape Town two data centre on top of its portfolio of data centre facilities in SA. Teraco’s investment is valued at R4.4 billion.

Last year, German start-up CloudRadar also launched data centre facilities in Johannesburg.

Data centre service providers are also expecting an increase in data traffic as a result of more submarine communications cables coming to Africa. Google’s Equiano cable and Facebook’s 2Africa cable are some of the submarine cables expected to boost connectivity in Africa.

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