Dan Kwach is the managing director for the East African region at Africa Data Centres (ADC).
The IT specialist, who has a Master of Science in Information Technology from the University of Liverpool, and an Uptime Institute Accredited Tier specialist, on Thursday last week saw the ADC break ground for a new data centre that could increase the capacity of the Sameer Business Park facility from four to 15 MegaWatts of IT load.
He spoke to Financial Standard on advancement in technology, the role of data centres in Kenya’s digital transformation, and why he thinks the trailblazing ADC is the continental giant.
How big is your facility and why is there a need for expansion?
The capacity we have right now is four megawatts in the data centre we put up in 2011. This is a data centre that has in the past decade remained the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. When you talk of the telecommunications services providers, over 50 of them are within the same data centre environment.
The fintechs too. Over 50 per cent of the country’s banking institutions are also hosted in this same data centre environment that we have. Closely connected to it are the cloud service providers, the cloud content and other technology providers. Kenya has been positioned as a hub for technology, and it is an entry market into other markets in Eastern Africa.
It is easier to get skilled human resources that can actually support the various technologies, and the good regulatory framework that we have, and the existence of a data protection law. This helps so that these tech giants can then see Kenya as a perfect environment to set up these technological infrastructures which end up consuming data centre space.
In relation to what we are doing today, while we have 4MW of data centre environment, we are having a ground-breaking for 15MW to 20MW capacity, almost five times what we have got. We are doing this because of the bigger demand for data centre resources. Amazon Web Services have mentioned that they are bringing a local availability zone. That is a massive data centre capacity. Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Alibaba - we are in touch with all these organisations, a lot of whom were represented today (in the ground-breaking).
For them to set up a cloud platform that can be shareable with all these players requires us to then build the capacity that we are doing, in time for them to relocate Africa’s data. We have been talking about bringing Africa’s data home. That is what the Africa Data Centre wants to do.
You acquired the Uptime Tier III certification in 2017. How has that impacted on business and the perception of reliability from those who were, until then, potential customers?
We try as much as we can to do everything based on global best practices. Designing, building and operating a data centre in a standard that is already known in the world helps because we then do not reinvent the wheel. It further helps us so the data centre we are building meets a global customer’s expectation. We are bringing the highest availability standards, and higher availability can be broken down to a guarantee that we give our customers.
At no one time are we going to have data centre services affected beyond eight minutes in a calendar month. We are committing ourselves that at no time will we have a downtime beyond 8 minutes.
Other companies are racing to put up data centres in the region, specifically at the Kenyan coast and in Nairobi. What does this mean for digital transformation and colocation in the region?
It is an endorsement that data centre products or services are indeed needed in the market. We got into this space first so we have that first-move advantage.
Some would maybe say we were visionaries, and that is who we remain to be: visionaries in terms of technology, what we want to invest in, the telecoms market and the data centre market. But most importantly, we appreciate the need for an open market and alternative service providers and suppliers. It opens up the market to allow our customers to get services from multiple players. That also brings in an additional layer of resilience beyond us as an operator having multiple data centre sites. We can have an organisation wanting the comfort of using services from different operators or service providers. And that is what others bring to the market.
Competitors would claim that you are not carrier-neutral. Does this impact clients, and give some network service providers a competitive advantage?
For customers, there is not much of a challenge because customers understand that as African Data Centres, we remain to operate in a 100 per cent transparent and carrier-neutral manner. Our facility in Nairobi has 50 network service providers. With all the local network service providers in it. How neutral can an organisation be? When selling our colocation services, we allow customers to make a choice on which network player they want to partner with.
We do not interfere with that or have any bias, and we enhance and promote connectedness. Open connectivity for us is key as an organisation that has a deep understanding of what the telecommunications players want. Our competitors will want to question our carrier neutrality but our customers and network providers understand the strength that we are 100 per cent neutral and transparent.
What standout thing makes ADC better than other regional data centres?
The years of experience, the richest ecosystem (this is the only data centre with 50 network providers, 50 per cent of network players, ICANN domain registration servers- in Africa). We also host peering platforms and infrastructures.
That puts us in a point of superiority and our customers have experienced the highest of availability. Over the ten years, the last decade, while we are saying we do not go beyond eight minutes of downtime, our customers have been accustomed to 100 per cent availability.
We made that a standard. We hope other organisations work with us to make sure this becomes an industry norm.