Creating a truly connected, digital Africa
Internet exchange points (IXPs) are the lifeblood of the Internet ecosystem and key to unlocking the potential of a digital, connected Africa. They play a crucial role in enhancing connectivity for individuals and businesses and promoting economic growth.
However, in Africa, many individuals and entities suffer the consequences of connecting to Internet traffic that takes convoluted routes across distant locations before reaching them, which leads to exorbitant costs and sluggish Internet connections.
Therefore, as an emerging market, the challenge in Africa is not only establishing the necessary infrastructure but also strengthening the capabilities to operate and maintain these IXPs.
So says Dr Ayotunde Coker, CEO of Open Access Data Centres, a company that is building data centres across Africa and part of the WIOCC group a connectivity leader on the continent.
He says at one time, IXPs didn’t exist, nor did the levels of data centre sophistication that we see today. With the advent of the Internet, if users in Africa wanted access to content, they would have to route all the way to Europe or New York, if they had undersea cable connectivity, or even more slowly by satellite, if they did not. And the information would have to come all the way back again, meaning that being unable to peer locally made the Internet very inefficient and expensive.
As an analogy, Coker says: “Imagine if you needed to send a letter across the road from you, and to do so, the Post Office would have to send the mail to a clearing point in London. You would have to pay all the shipping costs to get it there by air or sea, and then pay for it to come all the way back to the Post Office to you, to give to someone right next door. It was insane.”
Leading the charge
He said currently, the countries that are leading the way in terms of IXPs and data centres are South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, with Egypt and Morocco starting to emerge too.
“We’ve seen Internet exchanges growing right across the world over the last few years. There are big exchanges in London, such as LINX, there is NLIX in the Net-herlands, as well as the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX).”
In South Africa, we have JINX in Johannesburg, CINX in Cape Town, DINX in Durban and so on. We also have the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN) which is currently the Regional Internet Exchange Point (RIXP) for West Africa, with more than eighty active networks, and the Kenya Internet Exchange Point (KIXP).
All of these are facilitating the localisation of data and stopping this sort of “tromboning” of data being sent across the world and back again. This is crucial for economic growth because the more efficient Internet we have, the lower the cost, which is better for everyone.
There are also peering arrangements within exchanges, made between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who own and maintain Internet backbones, and having multiple exchanges allows more efficiency depending on the peering points, Coker explains.
In large countries, if there is one ISP at a location that is a substantial distance from the peering point in the data centre, users will experience latency and a delay in the transmission of data. In these circumstances, it makes sense to then have another Internet exchange at that location, as this drives efficiency.
“If we look across Africa, there are more IXPs starting to come through. But as we see larger data centres emerging, those Internet exchanges will need to go into these facilities and enable peering across the growing number of customers. However, these are not as prevalent as you might think across different countries in Africa. They may be very small exchanges that allow lower levels of peering, but it is growing, and we will see more IXPs in African countries.”
The availability of transit is also helping Africa reach its connected vision. “We’ve had many, many more undersea cables coming in. There has been growth on the West Coast with the ACE cable, and WACS that provides more African connectivity to Europe on the West Coast. There’s also the Equiano cable coming, connecting Portugal, South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and more, with massive capacity, and other countries will benefit too.” Meta’s 2Africa cable traverses the eastern and western coast line in the next 12 to 18 months.
This, he says, is really important for the Internet fabric and for each of country across Africa. It is estimated that an increase of 10% in broadband penetration yields an increase of a staggering up to 2.5% in GDP, particularly in less mature emerging markets.
A true game changer
“We are also building edge data centres across the country, and focusing on implementing a core-to-edge architecture that enhances application performance by bringing data, content, and applications closer to end users,” he says.
This groundbreaking deployment is the first of its kind on the continent, integrating hyperscale networks with storage and application hosting in a wide range of edge locations. The advantages for OADC’s clients are tremendous, particularly when it comes to processing massive volumes of critical data locally before transmitting it to larger facilities. It also minimises latency and enhances the end-user experience.
These edge facilities will help clients who are transforming their infrastructure deployment strategies, and will help them optimise networking and storage costs by processing data locally. “It’s a game changer. We are actively driving Internet exchange interconnect to more vibrant locales in the country, making it even more efficient and accessible in South Africa.”
Moreover, Coker says to consider how load shedding is a key issue right now. “For a small to medium sized ISP, when the power goes down, they switch off and the Internet stops working. But the world shouldn’t stop because of load shedding. What we’re able to do is aggregate these players into our data centre. We’ll worry about the power and the interconnectivity that they need. We are an open provider of connectivity and we are absolutely transforming the face of edge data centres across the country.” This combination of connectivity, Internet exchanges and data centres we refer to as converged open digital infrastructure.
It’s a very compelling proposition, and a lifesaver for small businesses, he adds. It will have a tremendous impact on economies, in South Africa, and then stretched across the continent.
“It will drive vibrant, interconnected ecosystems across the country, and eventually the continent, promoting enhanced regional collaboration, improved access, and will fuel opportunities for content providers, businesses, and enterprises to really thrive in an interconnected digital ecosystem,” Coker concludes.