Business is booming across the African data centre sector, which isn’t surprising given that the continent experienced the fastest internet bandwidth growth in the world between 2015 and 2019, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45 per cent, according to TeleGeography.
Africa offers enormous potential for digitalisation, and data-heavy consumption is impacting data centres across the region, with mobile penetration sky-rocketing, the Internet of Things (IoT) increasingly utilised and the cloud now the de-facto method of data storage.
A recent report, State of The African Data Centres, from the Africa Data Centres Association (ADCA) claims that with only 85 data centre operators in 54 countries, a total population of 1.3 billion and the number of internet users growing exponentially, there is a massive opportunity for the data centre sector.
Up until relatively recently, much of this activity was focused in South Africa, most notably in 2019 when Microsoft opened facilities in Johannesburg and Cape Town. However, whilst East Africa has lagged, it is now starting to see investment in network infrastructure and connectivity, with Interxion announcing a move into the region earlier this year.
The rise in demand for computing power means that African data centres – whether enterprise or colocation – have to be configured quickly.
Whilst existing facilities must be able to adapt as quickly as required. Similarly, networks are required to enable faster transmission speeds, whilst IT infrastructure must remain flexible, manageable and scalable, with the ability to offer practical long-term solutions to any imminent challenges.
The need for speed
Good data centre design relies on the implementation of high-performance physical layer components that allow owners and operators to expand and/or specify additional capacities quickly. A structured cabling design based on the EN 50600 international standard can fulfil these objectives.
In an EN 50600 design, all equipment is connected via ‘fixed cabling’ to one or more entirely passive zones, which are then used for easy and secure patching, as well as equipment moves, adds and changes. These centralised patching areas also allow servers to be placed where it makes the most sense for power and cooling to be located.
Selecting the right network cabling infrastructure on day one will determine if a data centre can support higher performance needs in the future. Transmission speeds in the data centre are evolving, and optical fibre-based cabling systems are satisfying ever-growing bandwidth needs.
Migrating from 10 to 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet, new 200Gb/s and 400Gb/s fibre applications such as 200GBASE-DR4 and 400GBASE-SR16 have been approved and even faster Ethernet speeds, including 800Gb/s or 1.6Tb/s, are already emerging. Other considerations include the cabling distances to be covered in the data centre, which impacts decisions over the deployment of a single-mode or multimode fibre.
For most data centre developers, modular design offers scalability and rapid deployment. One of the more popular modular design approaches involves the use of pods – groups of cabinets typically based on capacity, function and/or application. Once defined, they can serve as a template for incremental build-outs of additional pods and, as demand increases, can be easily repeated as a data centre grows.
Besides, pre-configured data centre cabinets can speed up data centre expansion even further. Preloaded with components including fibre and copper connectivity, power distribution units (PDUs) and cable management, these cabinets only require final connection and the installation of active equipment. Compared to installing individual components into cabinets, these pre-configured solutions offer a 30 per cent time and labour saving.
New and improved
A well thought out data centre design enhances operational efficiency, leading to an improved Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating. At the same time, simple touches like installing blanking panels in racks and cabinets can prevent the recirculation of hot air – refining cooling effectiveness and thermal efficiency.
Furthermore, the deployment of intelligent PDUs monitors the power usage of individual connected devices and this, in turn, lowers operational expenditure. As the African data centre sector continues its upward trajectory, these kinds of innovations will reduce labour costs, improve aesthetics and support green initiatives, ensuring predictable, fast and low-risk expansion without compromising reliability, efficiency and sustainability.
Dinesh OP, Technical Manager for Africa, Siemon
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