South Asia data centre guide 2022: Country by country

India is the hotbed of data centre investments, but all nations in the region are investing in their own facilities as well.

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All the nations of South Asia, including the smallest or least developed, realise the importance of data centres: to support their own economies and technology development goals, and in some cases to earn foreign currency.

Even tiny Bhutan, with a population less than 1 million, boasts four data centres. And Bangladesh, ranked 40th by GDP, boasts the world’s seventh-largest data centre.

Here is Network World Asia’s guide to data centres in South Asia.

Data centres in Afghanistan

We have been able to identify four data centres in Afghanistan. The most important is the Afghanistan National Data Center (ANDC) operated by the Afghan government. Its stated objective is to provide data centre services to the government of Afghanistan and to be a “reliable and state-of-the-art platform for various ICT applications and systems under the e-government and m-government program of MCIT [Ministry of Communication and IT].” It is located in the heart of Kabul, close to MCIT. It was opened in 2009 and built by Dubai-based Grand Technology Resources. Advertised services are web and email hosting, dedicated managed hosting, data backup, and colocation.

Local company Alef Technology also operates a data centre in Kabul offering colocation and managed hosting services. Another local company, the Asia Consultancy Group, operates a 5,000-square-foot data centre in Kabul, as does Pamir Alpha Technologies.

The country also has the specialised Afghanistan Spatial Data Center (ASDC). It opened in 2015 and in 2020 became the Afghanistan Natural Hazards Data Center (ANHDC) to better meet the needs of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA). Its development was funded through iMMAP—an international information management organization—as part of a multiyear disaster risk reduction program.

Data centres in Bangladesh

According to Data Center Journal, Bangladesh has 19 data centres, 16 in the capital Dhaka and one each in Comilla, Chittagong, and Barasil, each operated by a different company, with the exception of two operated by local company Aftab Nagar Online Service (ANOS), which has two in Dhaka.

Somewhat surprisingly, Bangladesh has what is claimed to be the world’s seventh-largest data centre, the government-owned National Data Centre in Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City. The 20,000-square-foot Tier 4-certified centre opened in November 2019. It was built by ZTE with, reported, funding of US$155 million from the Chinese Exim Bank. It is one of two government-owned data centres. The first, a Tier 3 facility, opened in 2010.

The National Data Centre project generated controversy at the outset. DatacenterDynamics cited earthquake risk at the chosen location and quoted the Uptime Institute saying earthquake risk was not considered in its certification scheme.

At its opening, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the project would both reduce the country’s foreign currency payments and perhaps generate income from other countries. In December 2021 local newspaper the Daily Star reported the centre to be saving Tk3.53 billion (US$40 million) annually in foreign currency payments.

A significant driver of the Bangladesh data centre industry has been the government’s Digital Bangladesh strategy, unveiled in 2008 and setting out a vision for 2021. The strategy has greatly boosted demand for digital services of all kinds, greatly improved digital connectivity, and — crucially for the data centre industry — greatly increased electricity output.

Data centres in Bhutan

Bhutan is a landlocked Himalayan kingdom with a tiny population of less than 1 million. It has the Government Data Center (GDC), managed by the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT).

GDC opened in March 2017 to serve government agencies and to support the government’s efforts to transform Bhutan into an ICT-enabled society. It was funded by the Indian government.

Bhutan Telecom runs a data centre offering commercial data centre services, and local company Bhutan Data Center Services operates a Tier 2 data centre in Bhutan’s first IT Park-ThimphuTech Park (TTPL). Another local company, Zealous Systems, also advertises data centre services.

Data centres in India

India is a hotbed of data centre activity. The country is currently home to more than 80 third-party data centres and is witnessing investment from both local and international players. India is ranked ninth globally for data centre density by Cloudscene.

Nasscomm, the not-for-profit industry association representing the $227 billion dollar IT business process management industry in India, said in 2019 that India had huge potential to take a large share of the global data centre market if it could act fast to implement the recently announced data centre draft policy.

One of the largest players in the Indian data centre market is NTT. It claims to operate 10 centres across the country with 43,000 square metres of data centre space and 150MW IT load, and it claims to have an additional 41,400 square netres and 250MW of IT load under development. 

According to Arizton Advisory and Intelligence, the Indian data centre market is expected to double its capacity in the upcoming years. Arizton estimated data centre investments in 2021 alone to be US$4.4 billion, saying it would double to US$10 billion in 2027 with combined area of 2.2 million square feet (204,000 square metres). Arizton said 16 data centre projects were underway in 2021, including from Amazon Web Services, Bharti Airtel, Colt Data Centre Services, CtrlS, NTT Global Data Centers, ST Telemedia Global Data Centres India, and Yotta Infrastructure.

“An increase in cloud adoption, data localization, and adoption of new technologies such as 5G and IoT are driving the data centre demand in India,” Arizton said.

Other factors cited as contributing to the growth of the industry in India are India’s cost advantage and availability of skilled labour.

The Personal Data Protection (PDP) bill has been a huge driver of growth in the local data centre industry. It has yet to become law, but its requirement for personal data stored locally has already driven up demand for local data centre capacity. The Economic Times reported in February 2022 that the PCP bill might be replaced with fresh legislation.

Data centres in Maldives

In March 2021, Ooredoo Maldives opened what was claimed to be Maldives’s first data centre, in partnership with UNDP Maldives, the local arm of the UN Development Program. It was also claimed to be “Tier 3 certification-ready.” However, according to DatacenterDynamics, it was preceded long ago by the National Center for Information Technology’s data centre, built in 2005 to host e-government workloads.

The Ooredoo data centre is located in the emerging smart city of Hulhumale. Ooredoo Maldives CEO Najib Khan said the move was part of the company’s plan to establish Maldives as a technological hub in the region.

The centre faces some challenges. Maldives is the world’s lowest-lying country, with its highest point of land only 1.5 metres above rising sea levels. However, Ooredoo says the new data centre is protected from floods up to seven metres high.

Data centres in Nepal

At the start of 2021, Nepal had a dozen data centres, all in the capital, Kathmandu. That number is set to more than double if local ISP WorldLink makes good on its plan, announced in January 2021, to build 14 small data centres, one in each of the 14 largest towns, over the following three years. It promised its largest, in Kathmandu, would be Tier 3-certified and the others would be Tier 2-certified.

WorldLink said its total investment would be 3 billion rupees (US$25 million) and it would work closely with the government of Nepal, the Nepal Telecommunications Authority, and the Nepal Electricity Authority.

No significant progress appears to have been made to date. WorldLink issued a call for tenders to build the Kathmandu data centre only in January 2022. However, the company already offers colocation services from its data centre in Lalitpur, Nepal’s fourth-largest city.

Uber also looked at setting up a data centre in Nepal, even though it did not operate in the country. In August 2018, the Himalaya Times reported Uber saying it would be cheaper to set up the centre in Nepal compared to other South Asian countries. Nothing appears to have come of the plan.

Data centres in Pakistan

Depending on whose list you check, there are about 20 data centres in Pakistan. Data Center Catalog provides details of the operators. Singapore-based certification company EPI Certification (EPI) has certified four owned by Pakistan Telecom and one each by Jazz Mobile and the University of Lahore. The Uptime Institute has certified five others to Tier 3.

The industry appears to be booming. A two day Data Centre Summit was to be held in Islamabad in October 2021 but was postponed because of COVID-19.

The government-owned National Telecommunication Corp. (NTC) opened what was claimed to be the country’s first national data centre in Islamabad in 2016 to help implement the e-governance agenda of the federal government. It was built by local IT services company Inbox Business Technologies and Huawei. In 2022, the National Information Technology Board (NITB) opened a data centre in Islamabad, also built by Huawei.

The Pakistan government might do well to have concerns about Huawei’s role, given allegations of Chinese spying via Huawei equipment. As Network World Asia’s survey of Southeast Asian data centres reported, a report commissioned by Papua New Guinea’s National Cyber Security Centre into a data centre built by Huawei for the PNG government claimed data flows could be easily intercepted without detection, that the layout of the data centre did not match the intended design, and that core switches were not behind firewalls.

Data centres in Sri Lanka

The most significant development in Sri Lanka’s data centre development occurred in January 2018 with the opening by state-owned Sri Lanka Telecom of the National Data Centre, the country’s first Tier 3-certified facility. The centre is located in Pitipana, 40km from the capital Colombo. It had an initial capacity of 500 racks. It was built over two years at a cost of 2.4 billion rupees (US$15.5 million at the time).

Local mobile operator Dialog Axiata opened a second Tier 3 data centre in Piliyandala in June 2021. This was followed in November 2021 by another Tier 3 centre in Colombo with 200 racks, built by Orionstellar, the trading name of Digital Realty Pvt (no connection with global data centre operator Digital Realty), a joint venture between Dialog Broadband Network and Sri Lankan company St Anthony’s Property Developers (SAPD).

Earlier in 2021, the National Savings Bank’s (NSB) private data centre had been awarded Tier 3 certification. Tata Communications Sri Lanka also operates a data centre in Colombo.

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