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Cloud Services Key to SME Survival in Nigeria – Coker

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Ayotunde Coker is the managing director of Rack Centre a data centre operator; spoke to Chike Onwuegbuchi on the impact of cloud services to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) survival in Nigeria.

What has been Rack Centre’s experience with regards to marketing your services to SMEs? Do you actually have services (packages) that have direct impact on SMEs’ operations?

That is why cloud is very important. I don’t think we are fully there yet. It is a journey we have been on for a couple of years. We will continue to work with all the big players on how to make the cloud available.

It is not just SMEs that benefit from the cloud; all of the corporates do. The oil and gas companies have to host data in Nigeria; government should host data in Nigeria. Now, we have the facilities that are as good as anywhere else in the world. Rack Centre, we have won global awards in the last two years even this year we have won a Data Centre Award, keeping company with some of the big European companies. So, we are recognised as being good as they are.

I was awarded the Uptime Institute Trailblazer award this year. It is given to a person in a region for driving data centre progress.

So, the fundamentals are there that we have what it takes to host cloud services here. Therefore, we are telling companies that you can now meet the regulatory requirements to host your data locally. We are making sure that the right bodies are aware that we are ready to host; not just co-location, but cloud services that are available for private, public or hybrid. When you host here, performance is better; because we are home-grown, you know how to easily reach us if there were issues to be dealt with. The entry points are comparable and reliable.

I don’t believe Nigerians should accept substandard services because such product or service was home-grown. By that we will be embedding mediocrity. But if we have something that is validated by the whole world, our job is to make people aware of that.

Coming back to SMEs; I am aware that we have to market to that segment, and the broader SMEs too. It will happen with time. We are making good progress in that regards too, working with global brands.

Even IXPN has supported the claims that most companies now host locally, but those with huge traffic like videos are still finding it difficult to host in-country. How can this be addressed?

First of all, Muhammad Rudman is performing a great leadership role through Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN).  We are also very pleased to be involved in the drives too, because we host IXPN. We also host the regional IXP for West Africa, which we did in conjunction with IXPN to win the mandate.

For us, we are scaling; in the next six months the upper side of the data centre will come up stream. Next year the next building will be erected.

The other thing is that we have most of the carriers connected to Rack Centre because we are carrier-neutral. About 27 IXPs are connected to Rack Centre. Every one of the five undersea cables is connected directly to Rack Centre. That means that every country on the Atlantic Coast in Africa is directly connected to Lagos. That is why I am saying we have the basic infrastructure in place which enables us to provide hosting services for both large and small cloud services consumers.

For instance, there is no need for any University to build a small data centre or server room somewhere. If we deliver the cloud services to them, they can become more efficient at cheaper cost. A student can afford to buy a mobile phone and the data credit; you can as well buy some cloud services to help your studies.

Moving forward, do you think the traditional data centres should exist alongside cloud or should the industry just focus on cloud infrastructure and services?

They will co-exist because cloud has to sit in a data centre somewhere. The key thing about cloud is the availability. That is why being Tier III certified is very important. Also, if there are cloud service providers coming to Nigeria, they will need a data centre to host it. So, you cannot separate the cloud from the data centre. For smaller companies, it is natural now for them to use cloud while big companies still need servers, they put in data centres like ours that is reliable.

In essence, big companies would like to have private cloud and still play in the public cloud space which is referred to as hybrid model. But the MSMES will adopt cloud facilities, the SMEs will go for pay-as-you-go cloud services.

Cloud-based apps and IoT are evolving in this market. Do you think Nigeria can keep pace with these developments?

One thing is clear- technological development will not wait for any nation or people. To me, Nigeria should and Nigeria can! However, we just have to make it happen, our policy direction will drive people’s and businesses’ approach to it. For instance, we should adopt a systematic approach to getting broadband access happen. If a State is gearing towards that, let’s grant them some incentives. The Federal Government can say if your broadband penetration gets to 50% you State will get incentives. It can happen in such manner that the benefits such States will get will compete with whatever revenue they may think they can get from hiking prices of Right-of-Way (RoW) or any other infrastructural levies on telecoms. Because it has proven that economies that succeed in adopting technology have the base connectivity around broadband. So, any State in Nigeria that thinks they can develop without necessarily broadband services, it is not going to happen.

We are innovating and developing the technologies that can help them achieve that, and we need to make sure people have access to such technologies.

We have the population and demographics that shows this thing is bound to happen here. As we put the basics in place, we should be able to keep pace with the technological advancements across the world.

Why? People thought mobile telephony won’t be successful in Africa; people won’t be able to afford it. Look at what has happened now- it defied every nay-sayings. Also, for about three years now the shipments and manufacturing of smartphones has exceeded the number of ‘feature’ phones. I also believe that the largest access to computing is going to be through mobile (phones). It is a technology that revolves around security- video cctv (close-circuit television), linking to new technologies that allow the police to be more efficient. These things have to be in a control centre somewhere- a data centre that is available 100% of the time.

Well, you have shared insights to what Rack Centre is doing in this regard, but in a situation, others aren’t following the same step, and not at the same pace, can we still achieve that?

I can tell you about Rack Centre. Our intention is to scale at the right level. We are looking at multiple locations across Nigeria maintaining the same quality.

I think it is good for the country that we have multiple players that enable the technology that we are putting in place. We have a few telcos that provide services.

When are you looking at building in other locations?

We have six geo-physical zones in Nigeria. Lagos is big enough to have another location, especially along Lagos-Ogun corridor. There is a lot for us to deliver at the second location. Abuja is also of interest. We are looking at that area seriously; and one other location to help us interconnect.

We are doing it in a phased-manner. The first thing is that we have anchored our stay here in Oregun; the next thing is to build on that to make sure that we scale.

The good thing about our modular model is that we can scale very quickly. You see, South African scaling happened significantly in the last six years. So, we are making sure that we support the scale that will happen not just in Nigeria, but also elsewhere in West Africa.

There are about 400 hyperscale datacentres across the word. Do you think Nigeria, Africa needs them at this point in time?

Well, Rack Centre would like to become a hyperscale datacentre, but there is something called edge. In power terms, you can say these hyperscale’s can generate 30 or up to 40megawatts of electricity. There are few of them in the United States and UK that generate up to 100megawatts equivalent. At the edge, it implies the data centre can deliver the cloud services itself.

In Africa, we have to ensure there are data centres that support these hyperscale’s. Rack Centre already falls in that category. At this location we can develop to 9megawatts of power. So, we are already a ‘scale’. In such environment, you don’t just bring everything at the same time. It is like building a community of flats; you start with a set and continue to building one after another till the job is done. But you can already say you are going to have a community of 2000 flats. That is the analogy for what we are doing here. We can build that scale that can support West Africa. Remember, I said that every country along the coast (Africa) is connected to Lagos.

So, we will see large scale coming in. I know of a Data Centre in Russia that was expanding at a reasonable, Alibaba goes in there and suddenly it become a hyperscale.

So, I won’t rule it out that we are going to have a hyperscale in Africa. I also envisage what I call Mega-Midi-Micro approach to data centres. Rack Centre stands a mega, but there will be other locations that are midi, because they deliver solutions to locations, likewise the micro sites. What matters is to have efficient monitoring process that will allow us to stay connected. It is quite a good technology innovation, putting this kind of infrastructure in place.

How would you rate the level of awareness of Nigerians with regards the availability of cloud services in locations like Rack Centre?

Let assume you have mobile telephony- you started with voicing and subsequently add data services; the same scenario is applicable in data centre operations. You can host websites here; take cloud services. It is like being a car dealer with different makes. So, even in a multiple car showroom, you go in and decide which one to buy. This is same thing is playing out here.

As the facilities are available, we will market and put in significant efforts to push the narration. We are not just creating awareness in our immediate environment; we are taking it global. It starts from home to regional and global approach.

Do you think there is need for data centres in Africa like Rack Centre to collaborate with global players like Microsoft?

Of course, collaboration is already happening. The global players are already looking at collaborating more. We are having specific discussions and implementations with the global brands in this space.

What will this market benefit from such collaborations?

First, I am not worried about bringing other experiences across the world. If the right person we need to work with is from Australia, I will bring that person, because through that, skills will be transferred to 10 other Nigerians. I will not compromise quality by putting the wrong Nigerian to do the right job.

Having said that, I am happy to let you know that our employees are fully Nigerians. My philosophy is not Nigeria at any cost

Why? My background before I came back in 2009, I was an expert in Britain, United States, Switzerland, Singapore. I worked in different countries because I was the right person for the job. That is the way the world is. It is better for one person to come in and create 40,000 jobs than for the wrong person to destroy 40,000 jobs. I also rephrase it this way: Nigerians here are as good as anyone else in another country.

We also have to make sure that we use the right technologies. We don’t have them here at the moment; so, we have to import. We have technologies here from UK, US, and home-grown technologies too,  so, we have a heterogeneous mix of technologies to deliver the services we have.

So, through collaborations, they deliver technologies that help us offer efficient services. Same time, we deliver cloud services that are unique to us.

Therefore, we should encourage collaboration, because what matters is the output. It is better for us that the likes of Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, etc, prefer to invest here to any other country. The systemic impact will be quite significant.

Cloud-on-Ground

When we came up with that idea, it was to reflect the Nigerian parlance- ‘man on ground’. You know, when someone gets a new job people would say, ‘hey, this person is on ground’. It was a spin on that- when you say ‘Cloud-on-Ground’ it is a reassuring statement that the cloud service we offer you is hosted here in Nigeria. We are not offering you gateway to go consume cloud elsewhere.

While we held unto that we also realised that the world is an interconnected place. And because we are carrier neutral, we have content distribution networks here, so, we can actually link to the cloud services anywhere in the world.

But, fundamentally, you know your cloud applications are resident here in Lagos, Nigeria.

What are your data recovery plans?

You know, we are in a journey and it is evolving. We have a core platform here, but you will find multiple locations that give us the resilience as back up. Our present clients are even seeing us as their backup because they trust the infrastructure we have built. Cloud-on-Ground also gives us the reassurance about backup just like there are others in West Africa.

Do you envisage companies from other African countries hosting their data here?

We already host companies from Benin Republic. In Ghana we have partners that are Pan-Africa, they host here too. We really do connect Africa. We have companies here that deliver services to the whole of Africa. That is why we believe, systematically, it is beneficial for us to have another location in West Africa. Some clients are already envisaging that. We are at fantastic tipping point; that is why we are moving to those facilities that are available.

When are you likely to commission the new facilities coming up?

We are in advanced stages of the designs. We are moving in to construction. In the next few weeks Nigerians will know about it when we are ready. We are looking at middle of next year. Presently, we have 550 racks. The power capacity-waiting will be 1.5megawatts, which is a good indication of scale from the original 9megawatts we have.

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Andela Launches The Power of “X” Campaign

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Andela the company building distributed engineering teams with Africa’s top software engineers, is recruiting mid and senior level developers in 2019, as part of a new Power of ‘X’ campaign, as it looks to scale its operations and meet growing demand. This comes as more companies seek to enhance their technology teams via distributed workforces.

Since its launch in 2014, Andela has received over 140,000+ applications to it’s Technical Leadership Program and has trained 1,000+ software engineers, who have worked with global companies including Safaricom, Invision, Viacom, and Skillshare. Andela now accepts applications from experienced software engineers who are proficient in Ruby, Javascript

(React, Node, ES6+, Angular), Python (Django or Flask) and Native Mobile Technologies for iOS or Android. The move to recruit more senior technologists is an expansion of the company’s business model.

Andela engineers work on global challenges, within global engineering teams, yet play an important role in their local ecosystems. The 1,000+ Andela Software Engineers are central to Africa’s growing tech community, and are leaders or members of Forloop, Teencode, Startup Grind, Progate, Facebook Developer Circles, to mention a few. Andela is a gateway for experienced and talented engineers to become part of Africa’s most expansive network of technologists.

“The most effective way to become the best in your field is to work on the most complex problems and work alongside the best people. Andela’s value proposition is that our engineers work on global problems, within global teams, and are connected to the best engineering community in Africa. By this, we are empowering people to grow exponentially and accelerate their careers” says Omowale David-Ashiru, Country Director, Andela Nigeria.

She continues, “we are excited to be part of the first generation of limitless software engineers in Africa who will play a significant role in transforming the future of technology, which we hope will be central to Africa’s economic development.

“At Andela, we expect our Software Engineers to gain the skills, experiences and networks that will enable them to become innovators and tech leaders in Africa and we are excited to now open up our recruitment funnel to diversify and enhance our talent pool”.

The Power of “X” campaign was announced officially in Lagos this week. Titled, “An inclusive future for the next generation”, and attended by key industry stakeholders, leading technologists and media, the event saw the likes of Bankole Oluwafemi, Editor in Chief at TechCabal and Prosper Otemuyiwa, Co-founder of Forloop share insights about the future of

technology in Africa during their fireside chat session. Andela’s Director of Developer Programs, Jolomi Otumara and Director of Partner Engineering, Olawumi Onawumi who also featured in the chat session, talked about Andela’s plans for the next generation of tech talent in Africa.

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CoinCola Bitcoin Platform now in Nigeria

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Blockchain Technology is rapidly growing in different continents and many more people beginning to see the importance and relevance of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology in their different fields of life.

Nations and companies are gradually adopting cryptocurrency in exchange for goods and services instead of fiat. However, the African continent seems to be lagging behind in the adoption of this upcoming technology resulting from the lack of political will to accept the risk of innovation (in Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency). This can further be perceived in the reluctance to adopt the use of cryptocurrency in day-to-day transactions.

Though based in Hong Kong, Coincola aims to provide trustworthy trading and exchange services to all its users all around the world with Africa being a key place of interest.

Coincola believes that Blockchain technology will be essential to providing secure banking and payment services in the future and also that cryptocurrency will greatly improve the convenience of daily transactions and help to create a world that is financially borderless. Hence, our mission is to “connect everyone to this new digital asset economy.

Coincola is an OTC cryptocurrency marketplace and exchange designed to offer the best cryptocurrency trading experience for users and also offer fast and secure trading services at competitive fees and exchange rates.

In the OTC Marketplace, the trading platform allows people around the world to use their local FIAT currency to buy and sell Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Litecoin (LTC), Dash (DASH) ,Tether (USDT) and Ripple (XRP). This is done on a person-to-person (P2P) basis. Users can post adverts for free and are only charged a trading fee of 0.7% of the traded amount once the transaction has been completed.

In the exchange market, CoinCola offers Bitcoin (BTC) and Tether (USDT) as base currencies and supports crypto-to-crypto trading pairs with Ethereum (ETH), Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Litecoin (LTC).  A trading fee of 0.2% is charged for an exchanged amount. However, there is a fixed withdrawal fee.

The new feature which allows users to trade bitcoin with gift card was added recently to fulfill a highly desired request by African users. Users can now buy bitcoin in Nigeria, Guana and everywhere else in Africa. They can buy bitcoin with gift cards, whether it is iTunes gift cards, Amazon gift cards, Google gift cards, Steam gift cards and more.

At Coincola, security is of utmost priority hence there are multiple layers of security including bank-level encryption, cold storage and SSL, ensuring that customers can trade with 100% confidence.

CoinCola provides an intuitive and easy verification process by building trust and transparency in the Blockchain ecosystem and ensuring compliance using KYC/AML regulations.

A mobile app is available to enable users to transact and trade comfortably while on the move.

Compared to Paxful trading fee which is 5% for every traded amount, CoinCola charges a fee of 0.7%, now, a lot is saved. Trading of your cryptocurrencies can be done via our mobile app or web version however Paxful only has its web version.

CoinCola supports BTC, ETH, LTC, BCH, XRP, USDT, and Dash but Paxful supports only BTC.

Security and users’ satisfaction are our priorities, therefore CoinCola provides a 24/7 full support and inquiry on their platform as well as on their Telegram channel.

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MainOne Pledges N25billion to Digitization of Lagos

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MainOne has launched its “Digital Lagos: Broadband for All” campaign initiative to enable the digital transformation of Lagos state through deployment of ubiquitous broadband infrastructure across the state.

MainOne’s ambition for Lagos is inspired by the vision of Lagos Governor-elect Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who noted presciently that “Technology will improve the rule of law, education, ease of doing business and government processes of Lagos”.

At the campaign launch organized in Lagos to announce its plans earlier in the week, Funke Opeke, Chief Executive Officer, MainOne, said, the company is keen to collaborate with the Lagos State Government and all other relevant stakeholders to build Digital Lagos and help citizens from all walks of life realize the benefits of broad, sustainable economic growth, modernized education, health, and other services delivery, and improved quality of life.

“MainOne is pleased to have the opportunity to present its plan for Digital Lagos, a proven path to ubiquitous broadband connectivity. This plan will involve the investment by MainOne of over N25 billion over the next 2-3 years to develop critical fiber optic infrastructure to enable broadband services across Lagos state,” she said.

A presentation was made by Mr. Judah Levine, CEO HIP Consult, a Washington DC based, independent, management consulting firm with specialization in ICT in emerging markets. HIP Consult worked with MainOne in developing a concept paper and implementation plan for Digital Lagos. Mr. Levine touched on the research done for Digital Lagos, its implementation plans and subsequent impact in Lagos State.

Opeke said MainOne has pioneered investments in critical internet-enabling infrastructure across West Africa, Nigeria, and Lagos. To date, the company has invested over N120 billion funded by leading African banks and has proven its capabilities in expanding and densifying localized fiber networks in neighboring Ogun and Edo States by deploying almost 1,000kms of fiber in partnership with Facebook to expand broadband access and connect government institutions and other areas of interest.

Opeke said, as the licenced InfraCo for Lagos zone, the resulting network to be built by MainOne would provide essential connectivity to critical State institutions, cover over 300 government agencies, up to 10,000 State CCTV locations, Telecom operators and ISPs, public Wi-Fi hotspots, Smart City components / IOT devices, in addition to Enterprises.

In Lagos, MainOne’s existing 700-kilometer network already covers major population centers and Yaba, where it provides connectivity for the majority of the Yabacon ecosystem and has connected startups like Andela, ccHub, Paga, and Flutterwave and others that have raised up to USD500million Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Nigeria.

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