Investors Prepare the Ground for Data Center Growth in East Africa

Data center provider Interxion's move into East Africa suggests the region's internet infrastructure may start significantly improving.By Mark Ballard, DataCenter Knowledge
January 29, 2020

Interxion’s move into the region suggests its meagre digital infrastructure may at last be seeing a start of meaningful investment.

European data center giant Interxion‘s move into East Africa suggests the region's meagre internet infrastructure may at last be starting on a path toward catching up with the developed world.

Investment in data centers and connectivity infrastructure south of the region has picked up dramatically in recent years, but the growth has been concentrated mostly in South Africa. Google is building a private submarine cable from Lisbon to Cape Town; Berkshire Partners just bought a majority stake in Teraco, reportedly South Africa’s largest data center provider; Microsoft Azure launched its first cloud data centers on the continent last year, in Johannesburg and Cape Town; and Amazon Web Services is gearing up to do the same this year by launching cloud data centers in Cape Town.

The situation in East Africa is starkly different. It is one of the most poorly connected regions on the planet, according to a DCK analysis of World Bank data. With its deformed telecoms market, obstructive legal and trade systems, underdeveloped power infrastructure, a small digital workforce, and little money, eager investors are counting on governments to take the steps necessary to make data center and network building possible.

By the count of secure internet servers housed on Kenyan soil, the country ranked 86th among 217 countries in 2018. For every million Kenyan people, there were 217 internet servers actually working on Kenyan soil, according to World Bank data. Those aren’t the only servers serving people in Kenya. Most of the internet traffic on the continent comes in from outside, carried by submarine cables.

That was a leap since records began in 2010, when Interxion's business partner, the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, set up in the Kenyan port town of Mombasa, where international internet cables land. At the time Kenya had just one internet server per million people, and most other parts of East Africa had too few to reckon in the statistics. But even today, Kenya makes only half the average for Africa and the Middle East as a whole, while the world average is 30 times greater.

Still, more submarine cables land in Mombasa than anywhere else along the continent's east coast. Four are live today, according to Telegeography, and two more are expected to come online between now and sometime next year. This concentration of cable landings may parially explain Interxion's move into the market. The company's gatekeeper position in Marseille, where it controls access to a multitude of cables connecting Europe to Africa, Middle Eastes, and Asia, has paid off handsomely. If it manages to secure a similar degree of control in Mombasa, it will become a gatekeeper for network access to all East African markets.

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