When traveling across sub-Saharan Africa, commodities that are essential for life – such as water and electricity – are often in very short supply, writes Tomas Rahkonen, chief technology officer and vice-president eCentre at Flexenclosure.
But even in the remotest of villages you will regularly encounter plenty of people using mobile phones, and mobile cell towers are continuing to pop up all over the continent at a staggering rate.
This, of course, is driving a phenomenal growth in mobile data services, which in turn is driving an ever increasing requirement for modern data centres that can deliver high service uptime at low operational costs. So here are my top five considerations for successfully deploying data centres in emerging markets:

Prefabrication for predictability
Traditional brick and mortar building projects in emerging markets are often impacted by significant cost overruns and long delays in delivery. Further, the specific know-how and experience required to build technical facilities capable of appropriately housing sensitive and expensive equipment is not commonplace in developing countries. So the best way, in most cases, to deliver a data centre that is predictable in terms of cost, time, energy efficiency and overall functionality is to use a highly prefabricated approach where work (and risk) on site is minimised.

Turnkey site delivery
Many new data centres in emerging markets will be green-field deployments. Just as prefabrication can offer invaluable predictability for the data centre building itself, appointing a single supplier to take on responsibility for full turnkey delivery of the data centre site will extend that predictability to the entire project. Full turnkey projects will not only include the data centre itself, but also peripheral equipment (diesel gensets, fuel tanks, energy substation, outside fire fighting, etc); site civil works (foundations, roads, street lighting, a perimeter wall, etc); and other elements such as office space, security room, storage facilities, and so on.
Having a single supplier customise and manage the overall design of the full site layout also makes it easier to optimise the total design and costs for items like cabling, surface materials and fencing, amongst others.

Careful project planning and experienced site supervisors
Deploying a data centre anywhere requires detailed project planning, but this is even more important in emerging markets. Required components, tools, and spares will be very hard if not impossible to source locally, so carefully managing the project inventory will be essential in order to avoid potential delays.
Taking a prefabricated approach will also help as it allows much of the initial construction to be managed in a controlled factory environment. And having the right people available is of paramount importance, which is why at Flexenclosure we use a project model where the supervisors that manage the prefabrication work in our factory in Sweden also lead the construction and final commissioning of our flagship data dentre, the eCentre, on site – thus minimising information gaps and maximising efficiency and project continuity.
Needless to say, site supervisors need to be experienced, resilient and resourceful in order to successfully undertake projects in locations that are often in harsh climates and have very little if any support infrastructure.

Go modular for future growth
Dimensioning a data centre for an emerging market often means combining a relatively small initial sizing with a fairly aggressive future expansion plan. This makes for an ideal environment for a modular data centre, where capital expenditure can be matched with data centre service growth.

Don’t forget about energy efficiency
The primary concern in many emerging markets, given a lack of reliable electrical power infrastructure, is to achieve targets on data centre service uptime. At the same time, the dependency on diesel-generated power also means operational costs for electricity will be three-to-five times higher compared to developed markets. This said, even small improvements in power usage effectiveness will translate to large savings in operational costs, so making the right decisions on insulation and cooling options will be critically important.

In the last two years we have successfully deployed six prefabricated eCentre data centres to customers in Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, and Tanzania – countries with 2014 GDP growth rates of between 7.2 and 8.3 per cent and where mobile data service use is shooting through the roof. And when GDP growth in many developed countries is only around 2 per cent, it is clear why the developing world is becoming increasingly interesting for data centre deployments. At first glance, project logistics may appear somewhat daunting for countries like these, but with detailed planning, a prefabricated facility, turnkey project execution and the right experience, modern data centres will be quickly and successfully deployed.