‘With adequate infrastructure, Nigeria can become Africa’s Internet hub’
Vremudia Oghene-Ruemu is the Manager, Product Development Segment, MDXI, MainOne’s Data Centre. He spoke with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, on the importance of Data Centre facility to Nigeria’s economy, among other germane industry issues, especially challenges confronting the business in the country.
Given the peculiarity of this environment, how will you assess Data Centre operations in Nigeria?
The Data Centre landscape in Nigeria is still new, gradually developing. We have a few data centers for our economic size and population, which means there is opportunity for more operators to come in. We are gradually building a digital economy, which requires cloud-based services and applications and data centres.
A rising confluence of demand and supply factors is making Nigeria’s data centre business one of the most dynamic ICT market segments in Africa. As broadband adoption has boomed, demand for cloud services has emerged, and is expected to surpass supply soon. To cater to this demand, MainOne’s Data Centre Company, MDXi is also building more Data Centres not only in Nigeria, but other parts of West Africa. We have started our second Tier III Data Centre in Nigeria in Sagamu, Ogun State; we have a Data Centre in Accra, Ghana, and should launch another in Cote D’Ivoire soon. We believe that other players will follow suit, and build to match the growing demand. Right now, South Africa has the largest data centre presence on the continent, with North Africa following closely, but Nigeria and other West Africans countries are expected to deepen Data Center penetration over the next few years.
What are the main challenges confronting your line of business in Nigeria?
The major challenge for Nigerian businesses right now is the high cost of operation. Data Centres have huge power requirements and usually recourse to direct connection to the national grid, which is a significant investment in addition to backups, which include huge generators with attendant costs of diesel ad maintenance. Operators need to import equipment into the country, but do not have access to FOREX, as the Central Bank has refused to give telcos priority. It has been ingenuity and financial knowhow that has kept players like us going in this tough terrain. Nigeria is yet to fully implement data domiciliation and a lot of government and enterprise businesses still hosts Nigeria’s data abroad, rather than patronise indigenous data centres.
The Federal Government needs to enable policy to drive our diversification from oil-dependent to services-focused; such as pioneer status for indigenous operators, tax exemptions, data residency and priority access to FOREX will go a long way to help Nigeria’s data centre operators and enable us be at par with South Africa and other climes.
In China for example, foreign operators are mandated to keep Chinese data within the country. Europe, Russia, Malaysia, and Indonesia have also implemented Data Domiciliation regulation.
Nigeria must also proactively protect its citizen’s data and mitigate huge security risks by repatriating all Nigerian data in-country. This will limit the country’s exposure to cyber-attacks, save us huge international internet transit costs and enable Nigeria’s data center capacity to grow quicker.
We need to understand that apart from glaring issues such as national security and capital flight; local data hosting has the ability to drive job growth and improve the lives of our teeming youth population. Local data domiciliation has worked and is still working in countries with strong digital economies around the world. All you have to do is look around the globe to see what having data hosted in-country has done for local innovation, technology development and economies in general.
Why is MDXI in partnership with the Nigerian Internet Exchange (IXPN)?
This move is significant in many ways. As a data centre provider, there are two goals – the first goal is to ensure that businesses that have high availability requirements can run their technology operations without breaking the bank.
The second goal is to ensure that the infrastructure running these highly available services can be reached irrespective of the networks that users connect from.
To ensure that end-users communicate effectively in this rapidly evolving digital ecosystem, network providers need to enable the exchange of user data in the quickest and most efficient manner using a process called peering. Peering is made possible by an Internet exchange point, which in the simplest of terms is a physical meeting point where networks, content and service providers connect and directly exchange data.
This results in the significant reduction of costs and increase in speeds at which data is exchanged thereby leading to consumer friendly network subscription rates and superb end user experiences.
This is where our partnership with the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN) is relevant. By hosting and partnering with the IXPN, our data centre customers now have quicker, less costly access to local, regional and global connectivity via simple physical cable connections called cross connects. With these cross-connects and close proximity to the Internet Exchange, our customers immediately have instant access to an ecosystem of network providers, cloud platforms, content providers and business partners, while saving costs on expensive wide area network links and ensuring high network performance.
By combining our vast local, regional and global network resources with the IXPN’s capabilities, we can now directly connect and provide interconnection services to local operators, regional operators, global carriers, content providers, ISPs among others. Our data centre’s value proposition is thus to ensure that people that host in our centre are able to reach their users seamlessly with great user experience and at lower costs.
What is the role of the IXPN in economic development?
The Internet Exchange is the backbone of digital economies around the world, and a key ingredient to growing the online economy in Nigeria.
The role of the IXPN is to ensure the local exchange of data between users by enabling peering between the networks that serve these users; hence the popular saying, “keeping local traffic local”.
An example is a situation where an email from User A in Lagos to User B in Lagos needs to travel across User A’s provider network to an International location where User A and User B’s networks connect just because they cannot connect locally.
You can also view this practically from the standpoint of regional airport hubs which serve as an exchange point for passengers between different airlines served by that airport. Airline passengers will definitely not fancy if they travel long hours to switch flights outside their country, or to reach a destination in their country just because a common airport that serves multiple airlines in the country does not exist. Routing internet traffic is similar to you flying to Ghana to get a connecting flight to Abuja, because there is no local interconnection point.
What is MainOne trying to drive with the Open Connect service it launched recently?
With Open Connect we are creating a powerful Internet ecosystem in the same physical location as the Nigerian Internet Exchange, and providing a platform for participants to exchange data in real-time at lightning fast speeds.
The idea behind Open Connect is that we are enabling owners of products, services and content with high response requirements become more service-oriented by bringing the networks closer to them. Being closer to the networks significantly enhances their ability to improve their end user experiences. For instance, today’s customer will seriously consider changing banks if they have an internet banking application that takes 30 seconds to open a login page, and takes several other painstaking minutes to conduct a transaction.
What are the main benefits of Open Connect?
Open Connect provides better network performance for the networks and their end-users. It also ensures low latency connections which in turn enhances the end-users’ experience while enabling local data exchange, local content, and local hosting.
Before Open Connect, how did operators connect?
In the past, operators connected Internet traffic via networks outside the country at interconnection locations where global content providers reside. This put more costs on internet providers, slowed down internet connections, and put the end-user at a disadvantage from a cost and user experience.
For voice services, interconnections were achieved through clearing houses some of which are present locally today. These methods of interconnection are no longer sustainable with the volumes of broadband traffic we are experiencing in Nigeria today via current explosion in content and smartphones.
The Nigerian Internet Exchange is currently enabling a limited amount of interconnection between operators today, but we believe that a synergy between MDXi and the Exchange using Open Connect as a platform will take interconnections to the next level in Nigeria and West Africa.
With the launch of Open Connect would you now consider yourself a Carrier Neutral Data Centre?
We have always been a carrier neutral data centre. For the benefit of your readers, a carrier neutral data center is a facility that allows its customers connect their hosted infrastructure to any network of their choice.
MDXi is structured as a totally separate legal entity from MainOne even though we are a subsidiary company. Customers in MDXi are free to choose any network provider that suits their business requirements and have done so since Day 1. As a result, customers in MDXi are connected to their various locations by over 20 different network operators and ISPs today.
Launching Open Connect expands our commitment to providing that open access, carrier neutral environment and bringing it closer to the Internet Exchange for all our customers to thrive.
Of what benefit is this to Over-The-Top (OTT) and content providers across the continent?
Until around four years ago, OTT operators like Facebook, and Google, hosted outside the continent because the infrastructure to host locally was not available, and the traffic they generated in Nigeria was quite limited with low internet penetration.
This narrative is however changing as the facilities to host such infrastructure is now available on the continent. Africa’s huge population and rapid mobile broadband adoption is also a major business driver for these large players as they recruit this large number of users to their platforms.
Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent, and we are beginning to see more content providers, producers and distributors develop significant interest in our local market. Five years ago, we did not have applications like Facebook Live, Instagram live, and WhatsApp video. We also did not have Internet banking, and the level of E-Commerce applications that require real-time online connections as we do today.
One of the key value propositions for content is a robust user experience. Accessing content hosted outside the country provides a significantly diminished user experience compared to content hosted within the country. By leveraging local hosting and Open Connect, content providers will improve their user experiences significantly, scale their products and increase user subscriptions which will lead to more revenue.
Can you shed more light on your plans to build an internet hub in West Africa?
By hosting the Nigerian Internet Exchange and leveraging our already active connections to the Ghanaian, Amsterdam, and London Internet exchanges, we have significantly expanded the reach of our network to other networks in the region and globally.
What is next is to ensure that our partnership with various internet exchanges and content providers across the continent continues to grow using products such as Open Connect to explore new frontiers for interconnections.
We will leverage our strengths as West Africa’s most connected data center to continually localise traffic, reduce transmission costs and improve user experiences which will catalyse the development of other industries such as gaming, content and media, which are highly dependent on superior internet connections.
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