The Covid-19 lockdown has ignited debate in Uganda’s corporate sector to shift from traditional operating channels to digital channels in order to enable businesses to access services and securely share data from remote locations.
According to leading tech experts, the post-lockdown public and private business sectors may have to settle for digital transformation for efficiency when it comes to security, storage, networking and data, writes Ernest Jjingo.
The Kampala Industrial and Business Park (KIBP) located in Namanve is renowned for the many varieties of factories located there; but the recent construction of the Raxio Data Centre could change the projection of the park and the country’s digital outlook.
The soon-to-be opened facility will operate Uganda’s first enterprise-grade data centre facility. Put into perspective, this centre will be the hub for organizations to use any internet link to connect to servers colocated there. This basically means computer hardware can be located at a third-party site with access to efficient shared network resources.
Through carrier neutrality of the data centre, it offers organizations access to different fibre options for remote connectivity. This helps with redundancy, resilience and diversity, whereby a client is not limited by anything and this helps very much for service uptime.
In other words, this technology replaces the Local Area Network (LAN) setup of most organizations. Indeed, some economists have already warned that digital interactions and remote working practices will become the new normal after the lockdown.
According to James Byaruhanga, the Raxio Data Centre general manager, a data centre heavily relies on power and connectivity as part of the essential requirements for smooth operation. “At Raxio Data Centre, we have created an eco-system that has multiple connectivity partners for clients to have options for connectivity,” he says.
So, as the Covid-19 outbreak continues to force Ugandans to increase dependence on digital infrastructure, many people have adopted working from home, but this comes with its own limitations, especially access to vital data stored in office servers. On this perspective, Byaruhanga says Raxio Data Centre will provide a stable, scalable, redundant, resilient, connected and controlled environment for server colocation.
“Enterprises can take advantage of this environment to create a centralized location where their employees can connect to and seamlessly continue to execute their tasks without interruption. It is the ideal location to provide business continuity for business systems,” he says.
It is worth noting that data centre technology is relatively a new innovation in Uganda. Therefore, comprehending the benefits that come with it may be an uphill task, especially at a time when people are guarded about their work.
To this, Dr Fredrick Edward Kitoogo, the principal of Uganda Institute of Information and Communications Technology, says public sensitization is critical to the success of data centres. “Ugandans normally don’t want to embrace change, especially if this change may affect the jobs of some people like those in the IT departments,” he says. “However, it is just a matter of time before leading organizations embrace the technology.”
On his part, Byaruhanga says Raxio Data Centre has embarked on a two-year journey of sensitizing the public through general communications and sector specific communications such as Financial Services Industry (FSI), Telco, Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Cloud Computing, among others.
Dr Hatwib Mugasa, the executive director of National Information Technology Authority-Uganda (NITA-U), notes that whereas there is excitement about data centres, the process of migration may be slow.
“Normally, giant organisation like telecoms and banks don’t want to tamper with their IT setups,” he says. “I suspect they may have to wait to see how small and medium enterprises cope with the data centre technology before switching. That is what happened in Europe and the USA.”
In the same vein, Byaruhanga reasons that it takes good preparation to have a seamless migration to a data centre. “We need to understand the space and power requirements of the client in order to plan this migration.
For some clients with only a few servers, it may be an easy migration. For the others that require moving multiple racks, it is a little more complicated. Raxio Data Centre offers a lift and shift service, where we can plan with the client for the migration window in order to make sure that we can move the equipment seamlessly and bring it in online at Raxio Data Centre with minimum down time.”
Amidst all this, the most important component before any migration is data security. Several government entities, banks and telecoms have fallen victim to hackers in recent years, losing an estimated Shs 300bn in 2019 alone, according to a police report.
So, with cybercrime cases on the rise, security at a data centre is paramount. Arnold Mangeni, the director of Information Security at NITA-U, says whereas data centres are more secure, there is no guarantee about client’s security. “Data centre storage of data is the way to go because it reduces the risk of sabotage from within but there is need to sensitize the clients about their roles in ensuring the data is safely protected,” he says.
Meanwhile, Byaruhanga says at Raxio Data Centre, they take care of the physical security of the facility with seven stages of layered security. “For example, we have security guards, CCTV cameras, biometric systems, cages and access procedures, amongst others” he says.
“The actual data security is handled by the customer since they are fully in control of their equipment which gives the customer more confidence that no data centre staff member can access information on the servers. We encourage customers to deploy firewalls and other soft security solutions for the data on their systems.”
On paper, this sounds too good to be true and given Raxio Data Centre’s multiple layers of security, the cost may be high but according to Byaruhanga, this is relative. “For example, if a client needs less than a full rack requirement, we use our resellers who provide solutions for the smaller enterprises in bite size requirements,” he says.
“SMEs whose appetite may be for cloud services can be handled by cloud service providers and the clients with bigger needs over one rack will be handled directly by Raxio Data Centre. So, basically, we provide tailor-made solutions for clients; there is no one-size-fits-all. I would say we are providing an affordable but, more importantly, very important service.”
It remains to be seen whether digital migration to data centres holds the key to technological advancement of Uganda but Byaruhanga is convinced data centres are the heartbeat of digital transformation and, more so, the fourth industrial revolution which really is the vehicle for digital transformation. “We need processing, computing power and storage to support this evolution. The million-dollar question really is; where shall this happen? The answer is data centres,” he says.
“The different economic sectors are always looking for such facilities where they can store their data and easily access services. Being part of the eco system at Raxio Data Centre that provides a hub for all market segments is the perfect catalyst for all sectors to achieve their business needs through technology adoption and migration.”