Earlier during 2010 Kenya announced the completion of the first phase of the National Data Center at the Konza Technopolis. The data center will be operational and both government agencies and the private sector will be welcome to use the new facility.

The news of a data center is a great step towards building a digitally resilient Kenya. Data centers are the reason why we can talk of the cloud and the power of this has been demonstrated when the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) struck.

COVID-19 and the cloud

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the idea of working from home and working remotely gained prominence. Many people around the world started working from home and while this was a seamless transition for many people (save for unstable Internet connection), it is something that would have been nearly impossible 15 years ago for most people.

The secret to this success today is the existence of data centers which act as the digital residences to all the information and data that we access online.

Many of the applications that we depend on today are hosted somewhere in a data Center and thus we can access them anytime and from anywhere. Companies can send users to work from home and still access their ERP, shared files, do online meetings, and have multiple people collaborate when doing the same task.

The success of Kenya's National Data Center

While there are other data centers in Kenya by various players such as Liquid Telecom, icolo, Telkom Kenya, and others, the addition of a new one is still welcome.

This is because this is a growing industry and to establish Kenya as a regional digital hub, we need to have more players. However, it will be a tough journey to make the data center a success as well as extend the benefit to the whole tech ecosystem.

For the National Data Center to succeed, here are some things that they will need to put into consideration.

Cost

One of the pain points when using local Data Centers in Kenya is the cost. For those who choose to host their data locally, the cost can be prohibitive and the alternative is to either have their own server room or opt for a Data Center in Europe and the US. On average, the cost of a server in a Kenyan Data Center is 4 times that of a similar server in Europe. This high cost is attributed to the high cost of colocation, amongst other factors.

A lower-cost can encourage more users to switch to the cloud and would rattle the pricing strategy of the current local cloud providers. Increased competition would also lead to better services. In some places, Data Centers give people seeking for colocation services even up to six months of nearly free service.

Why can we not have this in Kenya?

Get ISPs to connect

It is not good enough to have a data center if the right players are not involved. To attract users, the National Data Center needs to ensure that the major Internet Service Providers are on site. This will allow those who want to host their servers there to have different options to choose from in getting an ISP.

In addition, it will allow for sufficient competition among the providers, something that will benefit the users.

Besides the ISPs, the other players who need to be here are the global content providers who receive significant traffic from Kenya. To make it easier and faster, the Data Center should get them to cache their content locally. This will help improve the user experience for people in Kenya and ease the burden on the international bandwidth for Kenya.

Privacy concerns

The issue of data sovereignty, security, and privacy are always a major concern to many users today. One question that is likely to arise is the safety and security of the data in a Data Center run by a semi-autonomous government agency.

The management of the National Data Center needs to assure that data hosted there is safe, and may not face interference or unauthorized access from government agencies. In some other places in Africa, we have seen governments raid Data Centers and literally cart away servers and on the pretext of national security.

Users need to be assured that such cannot happen without the proper legal channels being followed.

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