If a few African manufacturers are launching data center projects on the continent, the American and Chinese giants are already omnipresent, on an almost virgin ground.
The battle for data and the cloud is indeed taking place on the continent. For lack of data centers, African countries outsource data storage to Europe and the United States. But the stakes are colossal in Africa, where several specialists are trying to convince African heads of state of the importance of maintaining their digital sovereignty. But time is running out: the continent is home to 1,3% of the planet's data centers. An almost virgin space that whets appetites. Those of a few local players, who hope to have priority. But also those of the global giants of the sector, who feel the potential of Africa. The new playground for these startups and giants: South Africa.
Johannesburg, a data center hub
Vantage Data Centers is an American group that has launched a campus project, comprising three data centers, in Johannesburg. An investment of 15 billion rand - around 1 billion dollars - to bring its first African campus out of the ground. “Johannesburg is the data center hub for sub-Saharan Africa due to its strategic location, its IT ecosystem, its fiber optic connectivity to the rest of Africa and the availability of renewable energies,” summarizes Antoine Boniface, president of Vantage EMEA.
South Africa has indeed understood the importance of having an entire ecosystem to accommodate the giants of the web. With 60 square meters of space spread over three facilities, Vantage will have the largest data center in Africa. It will come out of the ground in the third quarter of 000. But Vantage has competition in South Africa: Amazon, in particular, has decided to establish itself a little more in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Another player in the sector whose appetite is increasingly keen on the continent: the Chinese Huawei, which has started building two data centers in South Africa since 2022. Not to mention Microsoft.
In Senegal, a data center built by Huawei
South Africa is a continental exception. With an often failing power grid and a haphazard fiber connection, Africa has a history with data centers that is still in its infancy. But there is potential. Smart Africa has understood this well. This alliance of players in this sector from 31 African countries is trying to make people understand the importance of creating data centers in Africa. At the start of 2020, the continent had only 112 data centers, according to a report by the firm Balancing Act.
Smart Africa wants to increase the number of data centers in Africa, currently close to 1% of the world total, to 10% by 2030. The announcement was made in Diamniadio, during the inauguration of the first national data center Senegalese. If the Senegalese State IT Agency was pleased that his country now has "the largest data center in West Africa with 1 square meters of technical rooms, 000 megawatts of energy power and 1,4 terabytes of availability ”, we must not forget that the Dakar data center is not strictly speaking African: the Senegalese government has indeed chosen, as service provider for the construction of this data center, the Chinese Huawei.
5 to 10 African data centers launched each year
“Huawei supports African states in their digital transformation, because the digital economy is the future of the continent,” said recently the executive vice-president of Huawei Northern Africa, Philippe Wang. But since 2018, the Chinese giant is regularly accused of espionage, especially within the African Union. It's hard to believe Huawei when it says it wants above all to defend Africa's digital sovereignty, especially when you know that the Dakar data center was financed by a Chinese loan and that Huawei provides the equipment and technical support.
In this ocean of data and as the African cloud attracts more and more foreign powers, some African companies are trying to stand out. Africa Data Centers, PAIX Data Centers or Etix Everywhere are increasingly recognized players on the continent. Others, more national, like Teraco Data Environments, are starting to emerge. But it is difficult to come and compete with the American and Chinese giants in the sector. However, there is room: in Africa, each year, between 5 and 10 data center projects are launched. The market is estimated at over $ 500 million annually and is already attracting investment funds.