Developing countries have always had myriad challenges for mobile operators and other telecom companies to overcome: lack of or substandard infrastructure, political uncertainty, regulatory issues, challenging environments, vast and sparsely populated geographical areas to cover, unreliable energy supplies, and poorer target groups.
These challenges have been overcome with ingenuity and perseverance. Just look at the unexpected speed with which cellphone usage took off in Africa owing to the lack of proper and functioning fixed-line networks as well as other infrastructure that mobile telecom networks have become substitutes for.
In many countries, prepaid cards sold in small denominations at numerous mobile booths have given consumers with little money access to mobile telephony. Off-grid base stations in Asia, the Middle East and Africa are increasingly using green power solutions, almost completely replacing the use of dirty and expensive diesel. In East Africa, M-PESA and other mobile money systems have revolutionized the way money is transferred, making it possible for almost everybody to use basic banking services.
Developing Countries Are Next in Line for a Data Boom
So when the developing countries take the next big step into the “post-mobile data revolution,” there will of course be a number of challenges to overcome. The penetration of data in many of these markets is still low and prices are still high. In the developing world, 31 percent of the population is using the Internet, compared with 77 percent in the developed world.
But even if everybody agrees that data will take off in a big way, it is difficult to predict when it will happen and how fast. How can you best prepare to quickly respond to the anticipated demand without investing too much too early?
The biggest challenge is infrastructure. High-quality, efficient data centers are essential. They house and power all the equipment needed for transmission of data and are both the heart and brain of any network. But traditional data center builds take a lot of time to plan, coordinate (with different suppliers) and construct.
Furthermore, challenging environments add a lot of risk to a data center project, often resulting in delays and budget overruns. Buildings for data centers are seldom purpose built to be used as technical facilities, often suffering from water leaks and other problems, as well as being over-dimensioned since they cannot be expanded quickly and easily.
Prefabricated Modular Data Centers Ideal for Emerging Markets Networks
The solution is prefabricated modular data centers. They are quicker to deploy and will in most cases save considerable time and money compared with traditional brick-and-mortar buildings. The facility will always be the “right” size, since its modular structure makes it easy to quickly expand in response to changing needs. More efficient power and cooling will make a prefabricated data center more cost effective to run. And prefabricated purpose-built facilities offer more control over quality, budget and the time plan, bringing extremely valuable predictability to the project.
A prefabricated solution also makes it much easier to customize the data center for specific needs and it can be deployed anywhere. Let us take a look at a live example: Vodacom in Mozambique (a subsidiary of Vodafone) recently decided to deploy a modular data center (the eCentre) on top of a six-story parking garage 35 meters above ground next to its corporate headquarters in central Maputo, the capital of this southeast African country.
The roof top turnkey deployment is a 126-square-meter open space data center. Notwithstanding the unusual and challenging location, Vodacom needed to put the facility in place quickly, efficiently and on time, and the prefabricated customized build reduced the project risk significantly because the construction work was all done in a clean environment in Sweden in just 10 weeks. The Swedish engineering team had all the expertise needed—building, mechanical, electrical, UPS/DC system, cooling, fire-fighting, DCIM and security—and all the systems were tested as far as possible in the factory before the facility was shipped.
The very same factory team that built the data center in Sweden also installed and assembled it on site in Mozambique, giving continuity to the process and minimizing the potential impact of any on-site glitches. The final installation work was completed in just eight days—a fraction of what a similar local brick-and-mortar project would have needed.
Benefits to the client were a guaranteed product (versus an uncertain project), a guaranteed budget and guaranteed delivery on time. This would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with a traditional structure.
Energy Efficiency Becoming More Important
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, it is worth taking an extra look at energy efficiency. After all, many developing markets are plagued by unreliable access to expensive electricity.
A modern prefabricated modular data center uses the most appropriate (for its location) and efficient cooling solutions available. For example, indirect free air cooling can provide up to 70 percent electricity savings, with no risk of internal contamination in areas with dust and/or high humidity.
The data center infrastructure management system can remotely monitor energy efficiency to follow up on opex targets. It can monitor the power load and cooling system usage, enabling optimal cooling system configuration and expansion as data center power load increases.
And with prefabricated solutions, the power usage effectiveness can be calculated in detail, specific to each project and location, with the result guaranteed by the supplier.
Speed and predictability in challenging environments are critical issues in Africa, considering it is the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, and the take-off for data could be right around the corner. Prefabricated, modular and custom-designed data centers that can be deployed very quickly, and easily re-deployed if needed, are yet another innovative solution to an African problem (or rather African situation, since there is nothing problematic with fast growth).
It is a solution that will allow data center owners—Internet service providers, hosting companies, mobile operators and banks—in developing countries to act quickly and confidently towards a demand for data that might be stronger than any of us expect.
About the Author
David King is CEO of Flexenclosure, a specialist developer of hybrid power systems and prefabricated data centers for the ICT industry. King has decade-long experience in C-level work with numerous international high-tech companies, many in emerging markets. See www.flexenclosure.com.