Where is Africa’s Internet?

Where on earth is Africa’s internet?

For a long time, there was little content hosted in the African continent. Almost all the popular websites were hosted in Data Centers in Europe and North America, making Africa a data desert. Accessing the internet from Africa depended on the state of international cable providers who would route the data from other places and deliver it to user in Africa, often taking a long time. Consequently, the internet was always slow.

This was documented by a number of people. In 2015, David Weekly noticed that Facebook, Apple and Google were being served from Europe. A 2012 study showed that only 0.27% of the world’s top 1 million sites are hosted in Africa. A 2018 study by Afrinic showed that 85% of news websites in Africa are hosted outside the countries where they belong, usually in Europe and the US.

While the situation has been improving, the above statistics are still relevant and a good pointer to what is happening today. Most of the websites accessed from Africa are still hosted in other continents, and this comes with a myriad of challenges. There is high latency which makes the internet ‘slow.’ There is also capital leakage because Africans are paying for those services in other places while the infrastructure remains underdeveloped in Africa. Also, the cost of accessing the internet is high because of paying for the international bandwidth.

This points to the need to solve this problem and bring Africa’s data home. In the report by Afrinic, one of the suggestions put forward is to incentivize investments on data centers and web farms in Africa. This would help get African websites hosted in Africa, or get Africa’s internet home.

Bringing Africa’s Internet Home

Several firms have taken up the challenge and the problem is getting the attention it deserves. The number of data centers in Africa has been increasing, with South Africa leading the pack. The number of Internet Exchange Points in Africa has also increased, making it easier to exchange traffic locally. Several international players have also set foot locally, especially by use of Content Delivery Networks.

The battle is not yet over, and one thing that is still in short supply is affordable data centers in Africa. We need more investment in these, especially ones that take into consideration Africa’s need and unique dynamics. Africa’s internet should be in Africa.

The Opportunity for Cheap Energy for Data Center in Kenya

What would be the ideal source for cheap energy for data centers in Kenya?

The Seven Forks Dams along Tana River derives its name from a section of the river where it branches into seven tributaries. This is Kenya’s hydro electric powerhouse and for a long period, it was the primary source of electrical power in Kenya, until Geothermal plants came into the matrix.

The main advantage of hydro power is that it is renewable, and the second one is that it is cheap. Of all the sources of power that energize the Kenyan grid, hydroelectric power is the cheapest, as shown below.

Various Energy Sources in Kenya and their cost

From the above data, hydropower and solar provide a very affordable source of power in Kenya, and a combination of the two can help provide affordable redundant power.

Harnessing the solar power is easy. One can set up a solar farm and produce their own power. This is a direction that many companies are taking in Kenya. In the recent past, a number of large power consumers have taken this route in an attempt to lower their energy cost. To benefit from Cheap Energy for Data Center, Cloudoon’s Masinga Green Data Center plans to set up a solar farm for this purpose.

Cheap Hydro power

However, benefiting from cheap hydropower is not as easy as solar power. Kenya Electricity Generating Company is the leader in producing hydroelectric power in Kenya, but Kenya Power is the company that does the power distribution. The cost of power supplied by Kenya Power is quite high, with commercial power charged at about KShs 10.90 per KWh. Add taxes and this moves to about KShs 17/18 per unit.

How then can one get affordable hydroelectric power?

One way is to set up own micro hydroelectric power station. This is not easy, but opportunities for such exist as there are a number of places that can allow for that. However, when high reliability is needed, this may not be the way to go. There are so many moving parts involved and getting the power can become a full-time enterprise.

One other option is to partner with the producers, such as KenGen, to get the power at an affordable cost. Currently, KenGen is planning to set up industrial parks where it can woo manufacturers with cheap energy. Although this is planned for the Geothermal power sources, the same should be extended to hydroelectric power sources along the seven forks dams. This would be a turning point for large consumers who can set up near the generators.

Cheap Energy for Data Centers

Data Centers are one of the most energy thirsty facilities in the world. It was reported that Google uses more electric powers than some countries such as Zambia and Sri Lanka. The computing power comes at a cost, and the problem of Cheap Energy for Data Centers is a worldwide problem.

In order for Kenya to have affordable Data Centers, the question of energy must be unlocked and one way to do this is to seek the cheap energy for data centers. Solar energy should be pursued, and the hydropower generators should be part of the equation.

Some Data Centers in Nairobi are already exploring using solar energy, with some adding a solar farm t the existing Data Centers. This reduces their energy cost and makes their operations greener. However, no one has unlocked the full potential of hydropower, and the only way to do this is to partner with the power generators as well as considering a location near the power plants. Changing location is not possible for the existing Data Centers, but new one can consider a location near the hydropower plants to benefit from green and cheap energy for data center.

DC1-Stavanger: The Greenest Data Center in the World

Green Mountain is one of the most revolutionary companies that designs, builds and operates Data Centers. Their three Data Centers in Norway have achieved remarkable success in terms of their carbon footprint and operational efficiency, making Green Mountains an outlier when it comes to Data Centers.

Norway is one of the greenest countries in terms of energy usage. This is one reason that gives Green Mountain a competitive advantage. With combined output of 31GW, the hydro-power plants in Norway offer and endless supply of green energy, making Norway a world leader in the same. The temperatures are also low throughout the year, with the mean temperature at 7.95°C. This is suitable climate for Data Centers and Green Mountain is taking advantage of that.

One of the Data Centers that Green Mountains runs is the DC1-Stavanger. This is a Tier III facility located in Stavanger, Norway. The Data Center is located in a former high security NATO ammunition storage facility. This makes it a secure location, shielded even from Electro Magnet Pulses threat. Some of the features of DC1-Stavanger are listed below.

Cooling Capacity26MW
Power Usage Effectiveness>1.18
Space Available22600 m2
Power Sources4
Renewable Energy100%
Highlights of DC1-Stavanger

Water Cooling at DC1-Stavanger

The DC1-Stavanger has an efficient water cooling system, with water supplied from the adjacent Stavanger fjord. The Data Center has a cold-water basin which receives water from the fjord under gravity and at a constant temperature of 8°C.

This cooling solution is said to be the most efficient cooling system in the world. An input of 3kW of power results to 1000 KW of cooling. The end result of this lower costs for the Data Center users. Water is freely available and the fact that it flows under gravity reduces the need for pumping to a minimum. Consequently, DC1-Stavanger is one of the greenest Data Centers in the world.

DC1-Stavanger is something more data centers should emulate, where circumstances allow.