The managing director of Rack Centre, Mr. Ayotunde Coker, spoke withÂ Emma OkonjiÂ on the importance of data centre operations to business growth and economic development. Excerpts:
Rack Centre is often referred to as a co-location and modular operator in the data centre operation sector. What is the difference between the two terminologies and how is Rack Centre service delivery connected to both terminologies?
There are no differentiating factors between co-location and modular operation. The co-location centre is a shared services facility where people co-locate or bring together their information technology (IT) infrastructure facilities to be hosted on a single platform and managed by the operator of the centre. It has a strong security and standard of operation. Modular technology operation, on the other hand, is a special system of operation within a co-location centre, which allows the centre operator to deliver data components inside the co-location centre in stages. Modular operation is about expansion, based on demand as well as speed of operation in a co-location data environment.
Rack Centre got certification on constructed facilities. What is it all about and what value has it added to customers’ business?
For data centre operations, we have the Uptime Institute, which is the global authority on data centre quality certifications. So in April last year, Rack Centre achieved a Constructed Facility Certification from the Uptime Institute. It was a rigorous certification process because every aspect of the data business was inspected and the organisation has to meet up with the requirement of 100 per cent pass rate before certification is approved. We are proud to have achieved that certification as a first carrier neutral co-location facility in the whole of Africa, to be Constructed Facility certified by the Uptime Institute.Â Â The fact is that Rack Centre is not a carrier, but we can attract carriers to host data in Rack Centre. For example we have over 25 carriers directly connected to our data centre and we also have all the undersea cables from the Atlantic coasts directly connected to Rack Centre.Â Â So Rack Centre is the only data centre operator that is carrier neutral, that has the certification that makes us the most connected Tier III Certified Data Facility in Africa.
The value of the certification to our customers is that the customers feel rest assured that the centre where their data is stored has the highest security to protect their data, since we have been certified by the Uptime Institute. It gives customers the confidence about the safety of their data and business.
At Rack Centre, there are different layers of security. Why does Rack Centre need to spend so much resources keeping all the various levels of security?
We have high regard for security because part of the agreement we had with customers is to ensure high level security of their data. Now all the security checks you talked about is such that one validates the other. We have administrative security that validates who a visitor to the data centre is and we also have the physical security that secures the data itself. We have biometric for everyÂ stage of the physical security. We have 10 minimum level of physical security.
Can you share some of your investments plan in Rack Centre operation?
We have invested billions of naira in Rack Centre to date, since we went live in October 2013 and we have operated 99 per cent of downtime control. Our operation has helped us to double ourÂ investment some time ago. The huge investment in our data centre operation is significant to getting the certification from Uptime Institute.
Since 2013Â Â you have been able to maintain a reasonable number of customers who believe in your services. What is the strategy behind this?
The strategy in retaining our customers and also signing onÂ Â new customers is builtÂ Â around innovation. For us at Rack Centre, excellence and team work are key values. We see every challenge as opportunity to deliver better services to our customers. We generate our own power and we are working closely with the Ikeja Electric to bring in very highly sophisticated and dedicated power to Rack Centre. The innovation we bring in addresses a lot of our challenges as a data centre operator. Apart from generating our own power, we are also engineering gas technology and by the end of 2019, we will have our facilities to be Tier IV compliant, based on the innovation we are bringing.
Last year, CBN mandated all banks to host their data locally. Do you think data centre operators in Nigeria, including Rack Centre, have the capacity to host huge volume of data in Nigeria?
Yes, data centre operators in the country do have such capacity to host data locally, if all organisations, including the banks decide to host their data locally in the country. As for Rack Centre, we have enough rack space and capacity to host more data, and our modular data centre operation allows us to upscale, in line with the demand from customers. Currently we have 255 rack space capacity and we are doubling that capacity by the end of this year. We have the demand from our customers for extra capacity and we are working on that currently.Â Â We did some analysis few years ago and discovered that the latent addressable capacity for Nigeria is about 49,000KW, but that capacity is being unlocked. We can meet the capacity required by the banks.
Companies are trying to cut operational cost and should they decide to host their data themselves, how will that affect their business growth?
This question you raised is like someone who has the need for a car and decides to build a car for himself or herself instead of buying from the car dealers, just to save some money. When people or organisations want to build and manage their own data, it sounds good but they can only achieve a minimum level of efficiency and quality standard. Data centre design and management requires high technical skills and it is capital intensive. So it is more cost effective for organisations to release their data and allow experts like Rack Centre to manage their data. While the company is talking about customers satisfaction and profitability, we take the challenge of managing the data centre off their operational schedule.
So tell us what makes Rack Centre unique and different from other data centre operators in the country?
First of all we are highly certified in terms of quality and security and we are the most scalable data centre in the whole of West Africa. From Rack Centre, organisations hosting their data with us can connect the entire world from our location. So any bank that has its data hosted at Rack Centre can connect all its branches around the whole of West Africa because our facilities are highly and widely connected. These are some of the things that make us unique at Rack Centre. The other aspect of it is that we are carrier neutral and we will continue to attract the cloud services from all the key players. We host the Nigerian Stock Exchange and a host of others and we are connected to the Nigeria Internet Xchange Point (iXPN).
Most data centre operators are clustered around Lagos, yet we have lots of data businesses outside Lagos. What is Rack Centre doing to build more data centres outside Lagos?
Rack Centre can connect to all locations outside Lagos. For instance, a bank with branches across the country can host itsÂ data in our Lagos location, from where it can connect to all its bank branches. However, we know that with the large population size of Nigeria, we can add more proximity to customers by strategically locating data centre at specific places.
Nigeria is currently at 22 per cent broadband penetration with a target to attain 30 per cent by the end of 2018. How can Rack Centre and other data centre operators help to drive broadband penetration in the country?
Apart from increasing broadband infrastructure, there are some fundamental things that could help drive broadband penetration in the country. There are different ways to boost broadband penetration, and one of them is through fibre and others could be through 4G LTE technology. However, our role at Rack Centre is to deliver that core reliable infrastructure and we can build that capacity at Rack Centre. We, as data centre operators, play host to the operators that provide broadband infrastructure, so we are a fundamental part of the ecosystem that addresses broadband penetration in the country.
Government is the highest spender in any sector of the economy, including the data centre sector. What in your view can government do to promote data centre operation in the country?
We have government data and it is the prerogative of government to decide how it can host its own data. But Rack Centre can host government data in its cloud environment and this will boost businesses. But in the micro environment, government has to increase the ease of doing business and create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Rack Centre has the capacity to export Information Technology services to other parts of the country and outside the country but we need the enabling micro environment to do it well.
Cloud computing is key to data centre operation, but Rack Centre has gone a step beyond that to introduce cloud-on-ground services. Of what benefit is cloud-on-ground to businesses, and what are the benefits of data centre to businesses?
The cloud-on-ground introduced by Rack Centre is still very much there and doing great for our customers. It isÂ Â about innovation and diversification and attracting international players to come to Nigeria to invest. So Cloud-on-ground is about hosting the data locally, using the cloud technology. The benefits of data centre to businesses are numerous, ranging from national security to business growth, stability and efficiency.