Africa is by far the most exciting region when it comes to digital growth. Every one of the continent’s indicators points to the massive demand for both connectivity and content. Africa’s population is growing at 2.7% a year and population numbers could double to two and a half billion by 2050.

Africa’s young population is hungry for more, cheaper internet access. As are businesses.

In a space of less than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has done more for digital growth than over a decade of planning and investment. We’re seeing demand soar online. One example is that of our (Schneider Electric) e-commerce partner Jumia, which saw a 400 percent increase in sales for essential items during the last 15 days of March vis-à-vis 2019.

But it’s not all plain sailing.

Africa's data center challenges

There are issues around high data costs and high latency, and there’s the question about network connectivity in-country, and away from coastal areas. The one common denominator in the data center, or often the absence of data centers.

We need more African data centers.

To give you an example of how few there are, let’s compare the amount of data center space available on the whole continent with London. Last year, London’s data center space was 260,000m2; in comparison, Africa’s total space was estimated at 861,207m2.

There’s also a challenge when it comes to the distribution of data centers across the continent. Nearly half, thirty-one to be precise, of Africa’s 69 colocation facilities are based either in South Africa or Nigeria. Kenya follows with seven, and Morocco with five.

The irony of the internet is that most African websites are hosted in Europe.

📊 The number of colocation data centers available across different countries in Africa. 

So, why does where a data center is a based matter?

Importance of local data centers

To put it as simply as possible, the closer a data center is to the user, the faster that user will be able to access information and use services hosted at the data center.

The data center’s location also impacts reliability. Like with any service, the more capacity that is offered, the lower the cost will be.

Data centers are also the basis for digital transformation. We’re going to need many more data centers everywhere across the continent to power economies, speed up connectivity and reduce the overall costs for server-hosted services.

There are two basic challenges when it comes to building tech infrastructure in many parts of Africa, especially outside South Africa and Nigeria. The first is funding. We need more investment, much more. The African Development Bank estimates that the continent needs total infrastructure investment of $130 to $170bn a year. Today, the financing gap is between $68 and $108bn. We need to attract more private investment. The amount of money flowing into the data center space has edged up this year – one example is a deal in March when emerging-markets investor Actis bought the Rack Centre in Lagos and announced plans to invest $250 million to buy and build African data centers.

Given the growth potential, you’d think money would be pouring in.

Africa’s data center market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12% between 2000 and 2025, to hit three billion dollars. And much of that demand will come from cloud adoption – 70% of organizations in the continent will move their data and applications to the cloud by 2025. Data center growth will be double-digit for the foreseeable future.

The other issue we have to address is energy and climate.

North Africa is hot and dry, whereas Central Africa is humid. Both can pose particular issues when building a data center. Power supply reliability is another challenge; data centers need lots of power, and they don’t do well with power shutdowns. As the power quality improves across the region and power costs decrease, there’s going to be more confident in building local data centers.

Data center investments

Smart players are already investing in technologies that will reduce power usage. Taken for example our Tunisia-based customer Dataxion, which runs the largest colocation facility in North Africa.

Working with us at Schneider Electric, they’ve brought down their energy costs by 35 percent, which is no mean feat given that temperatures often reach 34 degrees Celsius in summer. Dataxion is using the climate to their benefit, by installing solar paneling that will provide a significant amount of power for the facility. This will both cut power costs and make the data center greener and more sustainable.

When I look at the continent’s data center landscape, I see huge growth potential. And the more that others look at digital investments, the more they’ll realize that we must start with putting money into building data centers across Africa.

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