Silicon Savannah: Are you ready for Africa’s data boom?

Today, digital development is forging ahead across Africa. With seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies and GDP rising by more than 5%, Africa is getting connected fast.

Figures from The World Bank predict the African ICT market will be worth more than US$150 billion by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, Cisco expects the MEA region to see the highest cloud growth rate anywhere in the world, pointing to a six-fold increase in IP traffic by 2019.

This rapid pace of development offers huge opportunities. Both countries and corporations are lining up to take advantage of Africa’s burgeoning data boom as mobile services skyrocket, e-governance matures and thriving entrepreneurs look to host business information locally to better serve customers. In just one example, Kenya is investing US$14.5 billion in Konza Techno City as it races to dominate ICT innovation in East Africa.

Unsurprisingly, data centre infrastructure has expanded rapidly to support this surging demand, with both South and East Africa emerging as hotspots for enterprise facilities. Colocation is taking off as well, with independents like Teraco (South Africa), Rack (Nigeria) and Kooba (Kenya) all recently investing in major new sites. Meanwhile, prefabricated and containerised facilities are also simplifying and lowering the cost of infrastructure expansion on the road to Africa’s digital future.

A bumpy ride?
While all these signs point to a bright future for what was once called the dark continent, the African market also presents substantial challenges. Unreliable power grids, intermittent connectivity, a shortage of skills, substantial security concerns and weak data privacy laws are just some of the issues still being hammered out across the continent.

These challenges explain why public cloud infrastructure providers remain sceptical of the African market: Amazon, Microsoft and Google are notable by their absence - none have data centres on the continent yet.

However, these major players may have good reason to wait: today, Africa is seeing rapid investment in fibre-optic infrastructure and international undersea links. As this network backbone solidifies, we can expect local hosting to become increasing viable and global businesses will rush to exploit new opportunities in the African market.

A game of leapfrog
Of course, Africa isn’t simply aiming to catch up with more developed economies - it now has an opportunity to ‘leapfrog’ past the rest of the world.

We’ve already seen this happen in the telecoms arena. While developed economies often still rely on legacy fixed-line infrastructure, Africa has leapt straight to 4G mobile connectivity, rolling out broadband access more cheaply and easily across rough and remote terrain. Today, the continent has almost 1 billion subscribers and smartphone penetration is skyrocketing.

As data centres in the developed world suck up power at an ever increasing rate, Africa has the opportunity to bypass this carbon-addiction and capitalise on more energy efficient solutions from the outset. The continent’s plentiful solar power and other renewable energy sources can help conquer the challenge of unreliable power grids while also reducing operational costs dramatically. In the long-term, developed economies may look to Africa for lessons on how to support the worldwide data boom more quickly, easily and cheaply.

Ready to learn more about the huge potential of the African data boom? Register for the Invest in Data Center Africa summit at Datacloud Europe 2016, which will explore the challenges and opportunities across the continent.