Yannick Sukakumu and Bhavik Pattni are players in the data centre industry in Africa. In this exclusive interview for TechCabal, they discuss with Noel K. Tshiani, founder of Congo Business Network. Sukakumu, who holds the role of country manager in Kinshasa, and Pattni, performing duties as the head of corporate and business development for the Raxio Group in Dubai, share their valuable insights and extensive experiences navigating the dynamic data centre business in the Democratic Republic of Congo and across the African continent.
As the head of corporate and business development at Raxio Group, can you share with me the company’s overall vision and mission to drive Africa’s digital economy through carrier-neutral colocation data centres?
Bhavik Pattni: We have a bold mission to lead digital transformation in our markets by sustainably providing world-class infrastructure that enables organisations to grow and reach their full potential. We do this by building and operating state-of-the-art data centres in key metro areas across the continent. These data centres are often the first of their kind in these countries and house mission-critical digital infrastructure for local public and private sector organisations and global enterprises. We help these organisations expand into new markets, reduce their total cost of ownership, and ultimately provide better service to their customers.
Raxio Group has expanded its operations to several countries in Africa, including Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mozambique. Can you tell our readers about your company’s impact and achievements in these regions, particularly in terms of empowering local businesses and driving digital transformation?
BP: Yes, we are now present in seven markets across the continent: Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Côte d’Ivoire, Angola, and Tanzania. We are proud to play the role of first mover in these markets by providing much needed Tier III certified data centres. The impact of our work is being felt today, but will be felt for years to come as these markets continue to develop. In most cases, the latter is difficult to quantify.
We work with local companies from the earliest stages of development. From site acquisition to construction, we rely on highly skilled local companies to help us build our facilities on time and to specification. There is a great deal of knowledge transfer in this process that will benefit employees of these companies and their future work. This development process has also had a positive impact on job creation. In each market, we estimate that we will create hundreds of jobs, particularly during the construction phase, and potentially thousands as new businesses are created as a result of our data centre. All our facilities are managed by a fully local team of highly proficient information technology professionals, whom we equip with industry-standard training, thereby equating their expertise with their counterparts in more developed markets.
Further, in Uganda, where we have been operating for two years, we have been able to observe our impact on digital transformation. For the first time, local businesses have a secure, highly reliable data centre facility in the country. For banks, this means they can meet compliance regulations set by the central bank, they can reduce their costs by co-locating with us, and most importantly, they can better serve their customers by focusing on their core business. Local and regional cloud service providers are able to expand their service offerings and provide higher service level agreements to their customers. International content delivery networks are able to bring their services closer to the consumer, thereby reducing the cost of that content. These are just a few of the observations we have made since we began operations.
Sustainability is a key focus for Raxio Group, with an emphasis on greenfield investments and sustainable infrastructure. How does the company integrate environmental considerations into its data centre projects and contribute to energy transition initiatives in Africa?
BP: Sustainability is at the core of our values, as it should be for any data centre operator. Data centres’ main cost is energy, so it is important that they deliver their services in the most sustainable way. We carefully consider the location of our facilities. All our facilities are strategically situated in areas that benefit from abundant, backup power supplies. Most of the power generated in our markets is already renewable, so our goal is to maximise grid uptime by selecting sites with more than one power source. In some of our markets, we will use solar power to supplement grid power, further increasing our reliance on renewable energy.
From a design perspective, our data centres are built to be highly efficient. Through a carefully considered equipment selection process, we have achieved a power usage effectiveness of 1.3, setting a new benchmark for the continent. During operations, we use advanced tools to monitor several key indicators so that we can quickly identify efficiency losses or potential risks.
Financing has been a key factor in our growth, and we are grateful to our shareholders, Roha and Meridiam, for supporting us from an early stage. More recently, Proparco and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund have provided Raxio with a $170 million sustainability linked debt facility to ensure that we meet certain sustainability targets.
In your role, you are responsible for corporate and business development at Raxio Group. Could you share some insights into the company’s strategies for forging partnerships, engaging with stakeholders, and driving growth in the African market? The data centre industry is also growing rapidly in Africa, but it is still in its infancy. What are some of the challenges Raxio is facing as it expands its operations in Africa?
BP: When we think about infrastructure as a pillar of growth, there is a real need to be fully aligned with all of our stakeholders, from customers to government to investors to peers. We are very fortunate to be part of a thriving ecosystem of companies that are all growing and rely on the growth of their peers to continue to grow. All of the businesses in the ecosystem have a complementary relationship with each other, and it is in all of our interests to see these businesses thrive. So in the interest of digital transformation across the region, we are working with carriers, internet service providers, internet exchange operators, data centre operators, and regulators to drive the development of our sector.
However, building infrastructure is not easy and we have faced several challenges in our journey, especially in the early days when the data centre industry was in its infancy. Our industry is challenged by a lack of connectivity infrastructure, regulatory uncertainty, and high construction costs. These challenges are being addressed by ambitious organisations, and we are grateful for their contributions to the solutions. Despite these challenges, we are confident that the African data centre market has significant growth potential. We are committed to overcoming these challenges and playing a leading role in the development of the African data centre market.
Looking ahead, Raxio Group aims to establish a network of interconnected data centres across the African continent over the next few years. What are the key milestones and future expansion plans that you can share with us, and how do they align with Raxio Group’s long-term vision?
BP: The future looks very bright for our industry, and we are very excited about its development. Over the next 3 to 18 months, we will bring 5 facilities online. We will continue to grow our team and expand our footprint across the continent by reaching new markets and delivering on our commitments. Our network partnerships will continue to grow as we welcome more connectivity providers to our facilities. We will continue to innovate our service offering and keep pace with the changing needs of the market. We hope to see a Raxio facility in every major African metro, providing a world-class infrastructure that will lay a solid foundation for the future development of our digital economies.
You have a background in finance and administration, and you have held senior positions in the banking and telecommunications industries. What made you decide to join Raxio Group and focus on the data centre industry?
Yannick Sukakumu: First, it should be noted that the Raxio project is a first in the DRC and marks the beginning of a new era for the country, that of its digitisation. In fact, this is at the heart of the current political programme driven by the vision of the President of the Republic. So it is clear that joining the data centre industry through Raxio Group was a great opportunity for me to help write this great story for our country. I would like to emphasise here that no digitisation programme and no development of a digital economy for a country is possible without integrating the basic infrastructure component. Raxio Group therefore fulfils this prerequisite to enable the country to truly implement its national digitisation plan.
Raxio Group is a relatively new company, but it has already made significant investments in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What are your vision, mission, and goals for Raxio in the DRC, and how do you see the company contributing to the country’s digital economy?
YS: Indeed, building this type of infrastructure requires significant resources. Raxio Group’s commitment to this level of investment demonstrates its seriousness and long-term strategy to establishing Raxio in the DRC. Our expansion plan throughout the country includes as many data centres as needed to support the development of the digital economy. For the time being, at least three data centres are planned in the short term with our deployment in the provinces. In terms of our contribution to the digital economy, it is important to note that digital infrastructure is central to development. By deploying data centres across the country, Raxio is helping to provide the country with the critical infrastructure that will drive the growth of the digital economy.
At Raxio, our vision is to lead the digital transformation of the markets in which we operate by sustainably delivering world-class infrastructure that enables businesses to grow, compete, and realise their full potential. Our mission is to provide our customers with data centre hosting solutions of the highest standards, enabling them to run their mission-critical systems in the most connected, secure, and redundant environments. We trust all of our partners and provide our services on a stable, long-term basis.
The DRC has a lot of potential for growth in the technology sector, but it also faces some challenges, such as a lack of infrastructure and a limited skilled workforce. How does Raxio address these challenges? How has Raxio’s presence in Kinshasa contributed to the development of the local tech and startup ecosystem?
YS: The size of Raxio Group’s investment in the DRC takes into account the major challenges facing the country, such as access to a stable and reliable energy source, which remains the main challenge for operating a data centre. A significant investment allows for multiple power redundancy options to ensure the level of availability required by the Tier III standard.
In the context of the local technology ecosystem, we play a central role as a provider of basic infrastructure that seamlessly integrates the various players in the digital value chain. Our presence enables different participants to directly interconnect with our infrastructure and benefit from a variety of services provided by different operators. This includes direct connections to Internet exchanges, interbank platforms, and more.
Raxio is not the only data centre company operating in the DRC. How does it differ from its competitors?
YS: Raxio is the first data centre company to operate in the DRC. We have made significant investments because our vision and plan for the DRC is very long term. We believe in the potential of this market and firmly believe that the DRC has what it takes to become the hub of the continent’s digital economy. Our sites are 100% acquired and owned by Raxio, reflecting our commitment to maintaining a presence in the DRC. In addition, we bring proven experience from across the continent and in similar environments. Our first priority is the quality of service we provide to our customers through strict adherence to service level agreements. This is also the essence of the added value of our services compared to the alternatives of our customers owning their own machine rooms, which can be less efficient in terms of cost, safety, and meeting required minimum standards.
The technology sector is often seen as a driver of economic growth and job creation. How do you see the technology sector contributing to the DRC economy in the coming years? How is Raxio Group working with local stakeholders, including government agencies and tech startups, to boost innovation and digital transformation in the DRC?
YS: In fact, technology is a real driver of economic growth, in addition to bringing convenience to users’ daily lives. On the one hand, it enables the optimisation of public and private services. On the other hand, it optimises tax revenues and improves visibility and traceability, helping the government to fight effectively against corruption, a scourge that undermines our country’s economy. Our country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is well on its way, thanks to the vision of the president of the Republic to position digital technology as a pivotal instrument in his policy agenda. The digitisation of the country will allow a series of optimisations at various levels, with a significant impact on the country’s economic growth.
In addition, basic digital infrastructures, such as data centres, enable the emergence of digital initiatives and applications, which are at the root of the creation and growth of many small and medium-sized businesses, including startups. Today, Raxio is working closely with public and private sector players to provide the country with these basic infrastructures, which are essential for the effective implementation of a national digitisation strategy.