Published: March 26, 2020


Africa and especially the Middle East currently lag the rest of the world in terms of the number of reported cases of people infected with the coronavirus. As a result, many of the countries that are home to the key datacenter markets across the MEA region have yet to implement the extreme measures that have locked down societies in Asia, Europe and North America in recent weeks. Having seen events unfold and government reactions in other parts of the world, administrations are, however, beginning to adopt measures at an earlier stage as they seek to ameliorate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their societies and economies. And while several datacenter providers in Africa have gone further in their efforts to ensure that the lights stay on, their counterparts in the Middle East – where the pandemic has yet to take hold on the scale that it has done elsewhere in the world – are largely operating as if it were business as usual.

The 451 Take

The crucial role that datacenters play in the modern age is being constantly highlighted on a daily basis during these unprecedented times. As more of us take to our dining tables and lounges following corporate advice and government edicts to work from or stay at home, the cloud-based digital resources that many consumers take for granted have become vital links to our workmates and loved ones. Some datacenter providers in Africa are anticipating an increase in demand for cloud and digital services as a result of all this, as well as an uptick in the need for remote-hands services, where these are offered. But while the providers are geared up and ready to offer such services, there is a stumbling block on the client side where, for example, there is not sufficient in-house IT administrative expertise to oversee a move to virtualization or other cloud-based applications. Furthermore, while there may be some gains to be had by datacenter providers as the working commuter turns to the home computer, these are likely to be shortlived as a global recession begins to bite hard over the rest of 2020, with no signs of recovery projected until roughly the first half of 2021 at the earliest.

Leapfrogging the Virus or a Ticking Timebomb?

As of March 26, there were 3,217 confirmed cases of people infected with the coronavirus across 17 countries that we consider to be the key datacenter markets in the Middle East and Africa. The disease has so far claimed 35 lives in these countries. While these figures show that the MEA region is far behind other parts of the world – where the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are in the thousands – what must be taken into consideration is that the numbers only reflect reported incidents. There may be many more people who have yet to report or be aware of any symptoms that they may be suffering from. This is a concern particularly across Africa, which is the world's second-most-populous continent and home to more than 1.2 billion people, where not everyone is within easy reach of a hospital or medical support.

On the other hand, given that MEA currently trails the rest of the world in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases that have been reported across the region, governments are able to take advantage of adopting relatively early measures in their efforts to limit the impact of coronavirus on their societies and economies. South Africa, which has so far reported one of the highest number of active coronavirus infections in Africa, declared a state of emergency on March 15 and is preparing for a lockdown that will begin on March 27.

Keeping the Datacenter Lights On

South Africa is also the continent's largest datacenter market. As soon as the first COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in the country, local datacenter providers began taking steps to ensure that their facilities and staff were prepared for operational sustainability. As well as following international best practices and health department guidelines to reduce the risk of infection, datacenter operators are implementing more specific measures. These include reducing visitor access and nonessential visits to their facilities, increasing cleaning schedules, heightened access control to facilities, etc. For some providers, access to premises also includes additional checks on visitors, such as recent travel or recent possible exposure.

As with many organizations worldwide, datacenter providers have reduced on-site staffing levels or implemented rotational working schedules. Several have split their operational teams, with some members working off-site but available to step in if required. To ensure service continuity, employees who have been mandated to work from home have been given remote network connectivity. This will be particularly vital for datacenter operators that offer remote-hands services as they are likely to see an increase in clients leveraging this for support during the coming months. In fact, some organizations are anticipating heightened demand for datacenter services as more remote working leads to increased need for cloud and digital services, although this is likely to be tempered as local and global economies fall into recession due the impact of the pandemic.

Up until March 23, Qatar had seen the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported across the Middle East, but has now been overtaken by Saudi Arabia. However, unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar has not reported any deaths at the time of writing. In line with other Gulf nations, the country has deployed 'precautionary' measures such as suspending travel to and from certain countries (including Italy, France, Germany and Spain), closing certain public venues, and advising people to avoid crowds and social gatherings. Although working from home has yet to be decreed as a mandatory government requirement, some organizations across the region are encouraging or advising their employees to do so.

As a result, for many datacenter providers in Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates, it seems like 'business as usual' and no one has reported any significant impact so far. While many datacenter operators are still evaluating the situation and some have their continuity plans on standby, the overall expectation seems to be one of a slowdown rather than a downturn, but nothing more than that.

The Right Skills, Right Now

Across the border in Oman, some datacenter providers have adopted more stringent measures, despite the country having the fewest reported cases of COVID-19 infections (84) among the Middle Eastern countries featured in this report. One operator based in Muscat said that all staff were now working from home but remained on call, and that all customers connected to datacenter services remotely. The provider is seeing increased demand for hosting enterprise resource planning and other applications in its datacenter, with roughly 10-20 requests per day. To cope with this growth, it has added 20% more capacity to its cloud environment. However, the provider warned that despite this need, companies are not ready for these transitions or are hampered by their internal IT departments who stop the rollout. And while it is also witnessing demand for remote desktops, which it is able to support, the company added that clients lacked the administrative skills needed for virtualization.
Rahiel Nasir

Rahiel Nasir is a member of the Multi-Tenant Datacenter (MTDC) and Services analyst team based in London. He covers MTDC service providers in the EMEA region, providing insights into the colocation, connectivity, cloud and managed services markets.

Jeremy Korn
Research Associate

Jeremy Korn is a Research Associate at 451 Research. He graduated from Brown University with a BA in Biology and East Asian Studies and received a MA in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, where he employed quantitative and qualitative methodologies to study the Chinese film industry.

Aaron Sherrill
Senior Analyst

Aaron Sherrill is a Senior Analyst for 451 Research covering emerging trends, innovation and disruption in the Managed Services and Managed Security Services sectors. Aaron has 20+ years of experience across several industries including serving in IT management for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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