Durvasula: Africa needs more optical fiber and data center infrastructure

Africa Data Centers Managing Director Tesh Durvasula speaks to Emma Okonji on the growing demand for digital services across Africa and the need for infrastructure such as fiber optics and data centres. Excerpts:

Recently, Cassava Technologies announced your appointment as the new Managing Director of Africa Data Centres. How are you settling into your new role?

The support I have received has been tremendous. I have joined an extremely talented group of executives and employees who have oceans of experience on the African continent, and I look forward to learning from them as we continue to develop Cassava Technologies and Africa Data Centers.

You will lead the Africa Data Centers team as the organization rapidly expands its hyperscale data center footprint across Africa with a plan to add ten additional data centers across Africa’s top ten economic centers. How do you plan to achieve this?

Africa Data Centers has growth as its mantra. We seek and talk about growth in every way. Geographic expansion is only part of this growth, we also want to expand in our corporate space. Many of Africa’s Top 500 are already our customers and our goal is to be the organization that Africans do business with. We want to be the place that international and global businesses think of, when they think of Africa. To achieve this growth, we must have world-class standards and we intend to ensure that we have these world-class standards in all of our functions, including sales, support, customer acquisition and finance. This is how an organization can become a world-class supplier, and this is how we intend to grow in Africa.

There is also a growing demand for data centers across Africa as internet penetration continues to increase. What does the future of the data center market in Africa look like, and what is driving this demand and growth?

First, there is a growing demand for digital services across the world and Africa is no different. Its citizens want to enjoy the same benefit of participating in a digital economy as their European counterparts. To do this, you need infrastructure such as fiber optics and data centers and Cassava Technologies offers many services that African citizens are looking for. Africa’s population is young and over the next 10 years the largest percentage of the population will be in the 18 to 35 age bracket. While other nations and continents like Europe and North America face an aging population, our population is getting younger. And they don’t want to do things like their parents and grandparents. They want to do them differently. They have a supercomputer in their pocket, they want to connect, learn, communicate and consume digital services, and they want to do it now.

At the moment, Africa accounts for less than 1% of global colocation data center supply, with South Africa accounting for most of the continent’s capacity. Should we expect a substantial wave of data center investment to materialize across the continent this year from players like you and why?

Considering the demographics I talked about in my previous answer, we have a growing, younger and educated African population. We have more women active in the workforce, more women participating in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and participating in the new digital economy. Africa is going to be a place where digital infrastructure will continue to grow and not just in South Africa, I think it will also grow in East, West and North Africa. Clearly, South Africa is a big economy and a leader in terms of GDP. However, there are very capable people across the continent who are also looking to take advantage of this infrastructure and just as other African economies have caught up and even surpassed that of South Africa in terms of GDP, they will also catch up and perhaps surpass in digital services, including colocation.

In February this year, a report by the African Data Center Association (ADCA) and Xalam Analytic found that Africa needed 1,000 MW and 700 installations to meet growing demand and put the rest of the continent in terms of capacity and density. Is it enough for the continent right now?

First of all, it looks like Africa Data Centers has chosen a good place to be and we are very happy about that. If history has taught us anything in this industry, and I’ve been in this industry for over 25 years, it’s that our ability to underestimate the demand side of this equation has been amazing. If someone wants to put a number like 1000MW and 700 installs on it, that’s fine, but I suspect we’re probably underestimating that request. We underestimated this demand in North America and Europe, as well as in Asia. I guess we probably underestimate it in Africa too. But it’s a good goal and we have a long way to go between here and there and Africa Data Centers is very excited about this opportunity. We are excited to expand and strengthen our position as the leading pan-African data center network.

You recently unveiled a new 10 MW data center in Lagos. Why is Nigeria an important market for African data centers?

West Africa is extremely important and it is a very diverse region. You have francophone and anglophone regions. You have Nigeria as the focal point of the region with a wide range of different industries, from financial services and FinTech, to mining and oil. In addition, the region has an extremely large population, with a very large GDP. Again, the people of the region are extremely capable, and we can expect to see Nigeria, and Lagos in particular, continue to be a leading market in Africa.

The Nigerian data centers were part of a continental network of data centers being rolled out in all key cities across Africa. Can you advise which other key cities they include and if they have the same potential as Nigeria?

Africa Data Centers intends to develop its pan-African operations. In terms of number of installations, we announced the largest data center expansion plan ever and are on track to reach the goal of 10 installations. You can’t be a pan-African operator if you don’t have a facility in North Africa, so it’s safe to assume there will be something in Cairo and something in Casablanca, because Egypt and Morocco are important countries in Africa that are important to us. We are currently very, very large in Kenya, but there are many other facilities in East Africa. So yes, I think there are a lot of cities that want to participate. Remember, if we go back to the macro trend, the secular trend is that we have a young population of educated people who don’t want to do things the way they did in the past. And to participate in this economy, you need to have digital infrastructure – and these people are all over Africa.

Electricity supply in Nigeria is a big challenge. How does Africa Data Centers manage this challenge to ensure there is no downtime?

Electricity supply is a global situation at the moment. Data center power is tough in North America, you’re waiting up to two years in parts of Europe, and if you’re trying to power a facility in North London right now, you’re waiting up to in 2025. Nigeria is not unique in this situation. Demands on our power grids as a planet have continued to grow, and people are working hard to meet that demand as more investment flows into Africa and into cities, towns and local jurisdictions for operating companies .

However, ADC and its customers are also aware of the environmental challenges that can be created by this increased demand on power grids created by the digital economy. That is why we are working closely with our customers, local authorities and renewable energy providers to meet this increase in electricity demand in the most environmentally friendly way possible. As part of this initiative, the Cassava Group has created a renewable energy platform called Distributed Power Technologies or DPT. DPT and Africa Data Centers will partner to help us meet our electricity needs. As I said earlier, Cassava Technologies is here to provide digital infrastructure to all of Africa, and part of it will be traditional industrial infrastructure such as electricity. DPT, as an energy partner, will help us in areas like Nigeria and anywhere else where we have a need and where we believe they have a solution.

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