The general manager, MDXi, West Africa’s largest data centre operator, Mr. Gbenga Adegbiji, in this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, speaks on how a data centre can fast track FG’s Ease of Doing Business.
Data centre operation is now integral to the running of an economy, why so?
Today, we are growing into the knowledge economy and it is information technology driven. Before now, you don’t have the need for so much information because the market was not right for it. But today, there is e-banking, e-medicine, e-agriculture, etc. There is a lot of information on the cloud. Your bank data for instance, you have your account somewhere but you can always access your bank account anywhere you are now, there is no boundary anymore.
That information needs to flow and have to be kept somewhere, so Data Centre comes in within the ecosystem. Data Centre basically, are structured controlled computer room where there is 24/7 power supply and security for all the equipment. Data Centre is a place where information are stored and connectivity is provided to the network. We provide grade ‘A’ data centre collocation and cloud services to West Africa region.
The use of ICT has made everyone to have a mobile phone and internet access. If you leave your phone now, it is like the whole life is without you. People now surf from their phones, so everybody is on the internet that is one. Digital economy is the second thing driving data centre growth. Now we have many companies and individuals depending on the internet. There are many people doing their work online.
The other day, I was talking to a young lady, she does gym. She will record it and post it online, people subscribe for it and she makes some money.
The Ease of Doing Business that the federal government is embarking on, and so many others like the national identity card, bank verification number, driver and vehicle licence, voter registration, etc are part of what is actually driving the quest for data centre. The other thing is that enterprise business are looking for more efficient ways of delivering their services to the customers. Today, banking has transformed, people don’t go into the banking hall.
They do online banking, mobile banking on their phones or use Automated Teller Machine (ATM) 24/7. I can’t remember the last time I entered the banking hall. I make transfer on my phone, I do everything I want to do on the platform, and it is more convenient. I can do it 24/7, I withdraw 24/7 on ATM. All of these things are the things that is actually driving the quest for data centre, especially collocation and cloud services for instance.
What made you to go into providing data centre services?
We have a target market which are companies, organisations, large enterprises that want reliability and availability for their systems on 24/7 all year round. There are some business you do that you cannot afford a downtime. For instance, banking today is 24/7, no longer 8am-5pm.
We provide service in the oil industry, it is 24/7 because every minute counts. We look at that business, we look at that space and we provide connectivity 24/7. We understand the need for reliable data centre that is always available 24/7. We decided to address that. We have banks, oil companies, enterprise businesses, international Over the Top (OTT) companies who require 24/7 available data centre, that is why we ventured into the business.
MDXI is the gold standard for data centre real estate in West Africa. We are West Africa’s premier resilient, vendor-neutral data centre; only data centre with direct connections to four submarine cables within 10km: ACE, WACS, Glo 1, MainOne.
Apart from Lekki data centre, are there other ones you have?
We have other one. Let me point it out this way, we commissioned our Lekki data centre in 2015. At that time, we have an investment of about $25 million. Between 2015 and 2017, we invested another $10 million in expansion to second quadrant and this year 2018, we are investing another $6.8 million which is about N2.8 billion.
We’ve spent close to $40 million and we expect that by the time we are doing the final expansion fitting out, we will be spending around $3.2 -$3.3 million all together. The project for Lekki data centre is $40 million.
Now, we have Shagamu data centre coming up, which is our second project. We have started working there. We commenced work In January 2018 and we have a project completion deadline of fourth quarter 2018 or first quarter 2019 depending on a couple of other things. Shagamu is going to be a different approach from Lekki. Shagamu data centre is a large campus of 4.5 hectares of land.
Apart from Shagamu we also have data centre in Accra, Ghana where we have our submarine cable landing station. We are expanding our data centre foot prints outside the shores of Nigeria with data centres which will be completed in Accra, Ghana (2018); Cote D’Ivoire (2019/2020); and Senegal (2020) to extend data centre hosting, collocation and cloud hosting services to the West Africa sub-region.
The rollout and the coverage is for us to be the most reliable partner in West Africa, not just connectivity services that our company provides, but to have this original interconnection point across West Africa to provide our services to our customers.
How many data centre do you think we need to effectively serve the country?
Data centre generally is a function of so many other things. I will not look at it from populations or geographical perspective. I will look at digital adoption to project the number of data centre that is required. When you go to ministries, you will still have people with papers and when they want to process something, they move from one place to the other. No matter how big we are, if we still do those traditional things, we really don’t need data centre. But if we want to move to the digital economy, like we have in the other parts of the world, where information is captured, then data should be available online.
For a population like ours, when you say the number of data centre, maybe we be we should look at data centre in form of the capacity of the footprint. MDXI has one data centre, which is 600 racks, that is more than 10 data centres of some other companies. But if I want to look at it in that capacity, I think we will need much more than a million rack space of data centre for us to able to meet up as a country, and for us to advance.
How should government encourage uptake of data centre in Nigeria?
The government of any nation must first adopt the new ways of doing things. If you adopt the digital method of doing things, you cut off inefficiency. Secondly, you have reliability because information is available when you need it. That means, people do not need to travel from Kano to Abuja to be able to do things. It will be available online like driving licence renewal, company registration, payment and filing of tax returns, etc. If the government adopts the digital way of doing things, it will encourage the use of data centre.
The other thing is localisation.
The federal government also needs to make a regulation that its information must reside in Nigeria. We need effective regulation in terms of both setting up the law and enforcing the law. With that people will be forced to localise. More than half of government information is hosted outside the country and that exposes us to a lot of risk. Government must ensure data residency within Nigeria to ensure our security is not exposed.