Why African Data Centre Infrastructure is key for Business Continuity – In particular during the COVID-19 crisis

Africa has started its own journey fighting COVID-19. The continent has some key advantages regarding the current pandemic, such as the world’s youngest population and recent experience with epidemics such as the Ebola Virus and recurrent diseases such as Malaria. Therefore, the population is aware of how to interact with each other to avoid illnesses. Secondly, the African governments were fast in taking measures to fight hard against COVID-19, as they learned from these previous experiences.

Besides these strengths, there are challenges regarding the low income of the majority of Africans, who have a daily struggle to find work and food for the day. And the dense households make physical separation a significant challenge. For the African society, it is of great necessity to keep people’s ability to work and communicate. It is important that the formal and informal economies can keep functioning, whilst maintaining social distancing. The solution relies on digital tools and ecosystems, all of which are underpinned by data centre infrastructure.

The solution relies on digital tools and ecosystems, all of which are underpinned by data centre infrastructure

The importance of business continuity plans

Business continuity plans have long been known as a crucial part of successfully running a business. These plans are made in order to secure, by anticipation, critical business functions to ensure continuity in case of disasters. These plans will help a business to avoid a shutdown, with consequential losses. 50% of businesses that are disrupted by a disaster and that do not have a business continuity plan, never reopen.

It is crucial for companies to prepare for crises. Pro-active resiliency means that a business is able to anticipate and prepare for a crisis. Moreover, if a company is prepared for any disaster, it can go one step further and even help society and the economy to deal with the crisis. In this ‘post-resilience situation’, a business can handle the crisis and is able to assist others or even innovate.

It is crucial for companies to prepare for crises

During the COVID-19 crisis, this post-resilience situation is especially important, since the disaster is not impacting a single business, but the entire economies of African countries. The issue is not only for the entrepreneurs to avoid losing their hard-earned businesses, but to keep economic activities running so the African population can continue to earn, get food, pay rent and survive. A crisis such as this one generally impacts daily-wage earners the hardest and quickest.

Digitization is a key weapon against the COVID-19 crisis

With the pervasiveness of mobile telephone networks and Internet access, African countries have leapfrogged into the digital world. Many African industry sectors are benefiting significantly from this digitization of the economy, either in creating value or in creating costs reductions and simplicity. The traditional economy is shifting towards a more digital economy, ranging from innovations in telecommunications, finance and e-commerce, towards government administration, health & life science and agriculture.

Not only businesses profit from this advancement, it has also positively impacted daily life. With social networks and other online communication tools, people can find support, work, transport, food and entertainment. New applications open up opportunities for payments and mobile money, a trade exchange for farmers, insurance possibilities, e-health solutions and many more.

Digitization allows economic activity while maintaining social distancing

The digitization of the African economy brings important benefits to the day-to-day life of many Africans. It will enable the population to keep both the formal and informal economies running to a certain extent, while at the same time maintaining social distancing. In the formal economy, a significant number of functions could be performed working from home using many types of cloud applications. If we look at the European continent; the use of Microsoft online cloud tools grew with a whopping 750% during January and February, as many workers logged in from their homes, and kept on working. And there are many other online applications that could help formal workers to continue doing their jobs, while staying safe at the same time.

There are online applications that help maintaining distance, while also allowing a safe exchange of products and services

Looking at the role of digitization for the informal economy, there are plenty of benefits as well. There are online applications that help maintaining distance, while also allowing a safe exchange of products and services. For example, solutions around mobile money, e-commerce solutions, social networks and mobile communications could really save the day ensuring nobody gets left behind in this fight against COVID-19.

Securing African Country IT and Digital Infrastructure

The common denominator is digitization, which is why the IT and telecom infrastructure of a country has become more important than roads, sea ports and airports. In the current situation, all of these traditional infrastructure is closed and will be vulnerable in the future, whereas the ’data ports’ or data centres can remain open for business and help to keep the economy running. In short: the traditional highway has moved to the information super-highway!

The IT and telecom infrastructure has become more important than roads, sea ports and airports

Building resilience: always-on connectivity is a must!

Digital tools are necessary in general, and it is the way forward for the African economies. However, during lockdown periods it is especially important that data centres can continue their hosting services, and that telecommunication lines are accessible and reliable. All of this digital infrastructure has become the most critical infrastructure for national economies. It is key to secure these ‘infrastructures’: make them resilient, and ensure that within the country’s economy there is data sovereignty and sufficient capacity.

To have a resilient, critical digital infrastructure in Africa, there are some key steps that need to be taken, in relation to the data centre industry;

• Inventory of the digital infrastructure that is available, including physical locations, and critical applications,

• Analysis of potential threats and impact scenarios
> What are possible risks and threats? Such as epidemics/pandemics, earthquakes, floods, cyber attacks, sabotage, hurricanes, terrorism, war, but also issues such as power outages, water outages and having a single point of failure

• Uptime analysis, maximum tolerable time of disruption, and tolerable outage of data centre services

The Importance of Co-Location Data Centres in Africa

The overarching goal of using co-location data centre services, is to build resilience and secure business continuity. As seaports or airports are colocation points securing different transportation company traffic, co-location data centres are securing data traffic for companies. There are other, more specific benefits for business to consider colocation data centre services in Africa:

1. Localisation, sovereignty over the capacity and the data, which is located within the borders of the country or countries that they are active in

2. Bring focus to the business; the core business of co-location companies is to supply data centre services; which means that the company itself can focus on their core business as well

3. Lowering Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), as a core business co-location companies are doing it better and cheaper

4. Providing a path to grow for businesses, as the co-location infrastructure is shared so very flexible in size and scaling up is quick and easy

5. Ensuring service levels are contractually aligned

6. Latency times, which brings a better performance and larger bandwidth

7. Become part of an innovation eco system, which accelerates local innovation, generating GDP growth and jobs

So what is in it for businesses and African governments?

Each African business, should assess its IT infrastructure, equipment, critical applications, and build its Business Continuity Plan including the use of resilient data centres. To make sure that they are ready for whatever happens in the future.

To make sure that African businesses and governments are ready for whatever comes next

Each African country needs to ensure its economy is resilient enough through the digitization of its economy, and ask the question if some or all data centres within its borders are classified ‘critical national infrastructure’? The resillience of the African national economies depends on the solidity of their data centres infrastructure. These privately and professionally developed data centres should be seen as strategic assets by African governments. With attractive regulatory environments, the African countries could attract these strategic assets and be able to anticipate for what comes next.