Why Resilient CEO David Murimi Is Venturing Into The Data Centre Business

This article first appeared in CIOAFRICA.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts,’’ Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom once remarked. For David Murimi, a serial technology entrepreneur, his mother’s failure in retail business is what stocked him to start and run several technology businesses that he has managed to scale to international levels. He currently runs three companies Ryanada, Truehost Cloud, and OLITT. He plans to set up the first green data centre in Kenya.

We caught up with David at his busy company office Ryanada Place, located in Juja at Highpoint Building off Thika Road. The office is an open plan with young people in casual wear busy on their laptops. I noticed whiteboards with the company targets. There were also a dartboard and a table tennis court at the office where the employees get to cool off steam. “You can’t beat my best employee,” David told me. He added that his oldest employee is 33 years and the youngest 21. He revealed to us that the biggest project that is working on this year is setting up a green data centre in Masinga, Kenya.

So, who is David Murimi?

My journey started at 19 years when I worked so hard at my mom’s retail business, which eventually failed. That failure never left my mind. I only found some peace when I started to solve some of those SMEs’ problems through websites and software apps when I cofounded Ryanada in 2010 with two of my friends while still at JKUAT.

Share your experience starting Ryanada?

Under Rynada, we started making software applications and websites for small businesses. We developed over 10 software applications most of which failed. We got a lucky break in 2015 when we created a SACCO management software that became a hit with Saccos and microfinance institutions. In 2016, Esacco became Jisort, a cloud banking platform that enables MFIs, Banks, SACCOs, Cooperatives, Lenders and Fintech to offer agile and flexible financial solutions globally.

What happened next?

In 2016, we found Truehost Cloud out of market gap and frustration with the web hosting and cloud companies then. Fortunately, Truehost Cloud has grown to be a market leader in Kenya. We are in a chasing position in Nigeria. We are growing very fast in South Africa. We are also progressing in the US and Indian markets. Truehost Cloud, currently, provides cloud solutions to customers in more than 50 countries globally.

In 2017, I was fortunate to be part of Alibaba Efounders fellowship, in which Alibaba and Jack Ma mentors top founders in Africa.

In 2019, we incorporated Cloudoon in the United States. Cloudoon is a privately held technology company focusing on emerging markets. Cloudoon operates offices in US, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

In 2021, we launched OLITT, an easy no-code platform that lets you create your free website and online store and start selling online.

Cloudoon is our holding company, every subsidiary operates as an independent company with its own team. The subsidiaries include:

  1. Ryanada Limited (Kenya) founded in 2010
  2. Truehost Cloud Ltd (Kenya) founded in 2017
  3. Truehost Cloud Ltd (Nigeria) Founded in 2018
  4. Truehost Africa (South Africa) Founded in 2020
  5. OLITT LTD (Kenya) Founded in 2021

What is currently your core business and when did you launch it?

Our core business is managed cloud services, and this is a business that was launched in 2016 through Truehost Cloud and Jisort and they have grown since then.

Why are you venturing into the data centre business?

As a cloud solution provider, data centres remain a critical part of the business. We spend a lot on data centre colocation fees.

Secondly, Customers are entrusting us with bigger IT loads every day, a data centre gives us a huge tactical advantage in our quest to be the best cloud company.

Thirdly, we have developed the technical capacity to run and maintain data centre infrastructure and therefore, launching a data centre is just a slight horizontal scaling of our business model.

Finally, we envision democratizing data centres, we are introducing a different way to how to consume data centres services. It is possible for even much smaller businesses to take their IT load to the data centre.

The reasons have merited us to venture into the data centre business. We have kickstarted the process of setting up our first data centre (MAS 101) at Masinga, Kenya.

Why Masinga and how was the idea conceptualized?

MAS101 was conceptualized back in 2019. In 2019, I was fortunate to tour some of the most advanced data centres in the World. I toured and worked in Cyxtera, CyrusOne and Equinix data centres in Dallas and Atlanta in the US. We were setting up a US cloud region for Truehost Cloud.

I realized it is something we need, and we can achieve locally, almost the same size and even more technologically advanced. Ever since we have been modelling the idea to what it is now.

We settled on Masinga because the data centre is 100 per cent green and the primary energy source is hydro dams. The location is near Masinga Hydroelectric dam.

Secondly, solar is the secondary energy source, there is amazing photovoltaic power potential at Masinga.

Lastly, it is a known secret that one of the main ISP in Kenya has terminated its fibre in the area.

MAS 101 will be a green data centre. Explain

The future is green. The future belongs to businesses that are environmentally responsible. And in this case, green is the most economical option in the long run.

A green data centre is a data centre that runs on renewable energy such as hydro energy, geothermal, solar power, wind power among others.

There are green data centres elsewhere in the world and mostly in Europe. We have modelled Cloudoon MAS101 on Green Mountain data centres in Norway which are the greenest data centres in the world having achieved 100 per cent green status.

Data centres consume more power than a proportional city. Just imagine, data centres account for up to 3 per cent of world electricity demand yet they are just a few of them.  It’s probable there are less than 10 cities or towns in Kenya that consumes more than 10MW of power. Yet MAS101, a facility on just 10 acres of land will consume at least that.

If large consumers of power, go green then you have a chance to take the whole economy green thus the sustainability of our resources and becoming environmentally friendly.

What is the state and future of data centres in Kenya?

We have a few data centres in Kenya. Probably there are 3 major players Africa Data Centers, Safaricom and Icolo. Of course, there are other smaller data centres by bigger players who are still assessing the market. I guess Icolo and ADC could be the only carrier-neutral data centres.

We do not have a green data centre in Kenya, our biggest data centre is a small data centre by world standards. We are therefore excited about MAS101 since it will be green and the largest (green) data centre in Africa and also carrier neutral.

There is a growing demand for quality data centres despite the existing prohibitive colocation charges.

What latest technology will the data centre have?

Cooling is the most important element in a data centre. More power is consumed in cooling a data centre than in running computers in most cases. Power consumption for cooling is estimated at about 1.3 times the IT load and redundant power

Water cooling technology is a modern cooling technology that has been around for some time. We are employing the latest water-cooling technology at MAS101. The water cooling system will operate on gravity, this will help MAS101 to cut the cost of data centre colocation by over 60 per cent enabling MAS101 data centre charges to be globally competitive. It will not only be 100 per cent green but also the most inexpensive.

What are the other key features?

MAS101’s power and Internet are available on 2N+1, that is at least 3 sources at any instance. It is a neutral carrier data centre. We will have the major ISP both local and international onsite.

The data centre will also have a 10 MW solar plant that will provide a secondary power source for the data centre. The data centre is 100 per cent green, primary source will be hydropower. It will host 2500 racks.

What is the cost of MAS 101?

We estimate the project to cost between $50m – $60m. We are talking to both local and international investors to help fund the project. We are talking to both local and international investors.

With years of experience running companies, how do you handle failure?

I always consider failure as a learning opportunity, every time we fail, we try again with minor or major alterations of the process. Most of the time we try until we cannot try anymore.

What are your good and bad memories as a CEO?

It’s a busy kind of environment where everything is always changing to the extent that milestones have been overshadowed by other milestones, failures overshadowed by bigger failures. However, it’s always a special memory to see a happy customer. It’s a bad memory when we fail to meet a customer’s expectations.

As a CEO, what qualities do you value most among your employees?

I think the most important qualities are Integrity, work ethics, and empathy. There is what I call intellectual integrity, this is the courage, commitment and ability to always present one’s true position, understanding and knowledge on a subject matter. The second bit of integrity is honesty in everything. I consider integrity to be the heart of character.

Under work ethics, working hard, working long and working smart are inseparable, whether in pursuit of personal development or at the job. I consider work ethics to be the heart of passion.

Empathy strengthens the bond among team members. As an empathetic team, we are able to listen, understand and help our customers. I consider empathy to be the heart of customer service.

There is a shortage of IT talent in Kenya, how do you attract and retain employees?

We have developed a recruitment system that focuses on character and skill set, we don’t pay much attention to formal training. This allows us to attract the real talent, most of which are shun by large companies for not having computer science degrees.

Moreover, we have a reputation for developing talent, through progressive in-house training. Most people that join us enjoy the tough grind, because of talent development options. Most of the time we lose talent going to the very top companies globally.

Will the cloud eat the data centre?

Yes and No.

Yes, the cloud is eating data centres as we know it. The high computational advancement within the cloud has and is rendering the traditional low power density (4.5Kw per rack) data centre obsolete.  The demand has shifted to high computational power and high energy-efficient data centres.

No, because cloud data still resides in data centres. It’s of course a different kind of data centre, a high-power density data centre. This explains why we are developing a high-power density (at least 30KW per rack) Masinga Data Center.

If you were to start afresh, what would you have done differently?

I started the company while still in college, naive, curious and energetic. Growth has been hectic and painful.  I think I would join a tech company where I would gather experience, network and other resources before starting out. Of course, there is no guarantee that this would lead to bigger success but possibly less pain.

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