Africa Needs an African Cloud

For organisations in Africa to truly reap the benefits of cloud and shared data centre services, local data centres need to be developed and deployed. This will not only address the issue around data sovereignty, but also stimulate local economic development and improve the lives of citizens using by widely adopting this technology. This is the view of Mohamed Abdelrehim, Head of Solutions and Business Development for Nokia in the Middle East and Africa market.

“The whole purpose of building data centres is to create capacity where it does not exist,” he says. “At a macro level, the government/ Large institutions of a specific country might not have enough budget/ key resources to implement a local data centre, in which case they will then look at other countries and the global level for international ICT service providers to lease capacity from. Start-ups and SMEs also cannot each invest in their own IT infrastructure. They would then look at a major ICT company or ISP which offers data centre services in the form of “hosting for a monthly fee,” says Abdelrehim. International players such as Amazon, Alibaba and Google already operate implement such data centres across the world. These physical data centres across the world are smaller units representing an overall logical global data centre providing continuous reliable service.

The way in which a data centre is built and powered will depend on where it is located geographically. “In areas of a high level of highly developed infrastructure availability, the energy/cooling/ accessibility required to power host and operate a data centre is relatively easily accessible. In more remote locations, however, renewable energy or batteries could be required to meet energy requirements,” he says. “Data centres have to be world class, active all of the time because we are talking about critical ICT services that are required to be always available. Therefore, you would require redundant power sources and here renewable energy could play a role.”

Abdelrehim says that, as an example, when large volume of batteries required, there should be some form of governance around the sustainability of the batteries used. “It can be a very tricky area because if you put the legislation around this in the hands of people who are not driving technology innovation, you could restrict progress. Instead, legislators should focus on the type and specifications of the components, the source, recycling, lifecycle, maintenance and who the key suppliers are.” The energy sources used, form a big part of the total cost of ownership of a Data center site or group of Data center sites forming a network, therefore it should be managed and sourced responsibly.

He says in an ideal world people in Africa would move beyond being consumers of international technology provided reliable & cost-effective Data center services are available locally & in region. “We’ve seen this happen in Europe, so why not on this continent? We need to determine how we can use local data centres to promote new economic development and improve lives, have a general “Broad Cloud” for Africa and how to utilise them to attract technology/ new investments to the continent,” says Abdelrehim. “From a private sector perspective, this usually requires a solid business case, but when organisations such as the African Union and Smart Africa become involved, the whole dynamics and conversation is completely different. Then multinational companies, such as Nokia, can tap into different global/ regional funds e.g. EU fund, with the objective of accelerating technology adoption and improving the lives of the people in the geography where they serve.”

He believes that a top-down approach is required to make African data centres and ultimately an African cloud a reality. “The strategic direction needs to come from the top, which will then be cascaded into different workstreams and smaller projects. This needs to be supported by a roadmap and timeframe showing the key countries that would adopt it first,” says Abdelrehim. “I envision countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt and Morocco becoming the initial hubs for a local cloud, and then gradually expanding that to second and third tier countries. This will not only create economic opportunity on the continent but will eventually improve the quality of life of people, generate jobs create employment, transform society in a constantly changing environment.”