Headshot of CEO Dan NjugunaDANIEL NJUGUNA, CEO OF ATLANCIS

“MANY COMPANIES TALK ABOUT OCP AND ARE EVEN WORKING ON IT, BUT IT WAS CLEAR THAT ITRENEW WAS DELIVERING ACTUAL SOLUTIONS FOR THE BROADER MARKET, RIGHT NOW. WE COULD TAKE OUR VISION AND MAKE IT A REALITY.”

Atlancis: Bonfire of the Vanities

When Daniel Njuguna talks about Atlancis, his technology solutions company, he often makes reference to vanity brands. It’s a term he uses to describe the household names and heavy hitters in the enterprise-grade server industry. Their hardware infrastructure can be found in data centers all over the world, including East Africa, where Atlancis itself is headquartered along with its growing customer base.

Ever since co-founding the company in 2011 with his engineering partner Toney Webala, Njuguna had questioned whether the hardware from the usual list of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) truly represented the best option for him and his customers.

“Over the past twenty years, we’ve seen African enterprises procure and implement solutions that have predominantly been sourced from these vanity brands,” he says.

“Notwithstanding the higher capital expenditure and operational expenditure incurred by these brands, there are also significant issues related to environmental impact, local skillsets, system interoperability, proprietary lock-in, flexibility and scalability.”

To give just one example of those interconnected drawbacks, he points to the massive growth of cloud services across the African continent in recent years. In this arena, choosing global vanity brands over homegrown solutions ends up disproportionately benefitting overseas economies rather than local ones. African enterprises, service providers, data centers, engineers and governments find themselves restricted to non-optimized IT ecosystems while paying handsomely for the privilege.

Keeping an Open Mind

In 2017, as Atlancis prepared to develop and launch its own cloud platform, called Servernah, Njuguna and his team began looking beyond conventional OEMs and instead toward original design manufacturers (ODMs).

“Compared to the OEMs, the capital expenditure argument in favor of the ODMs was really compelling. More important, however, was the flexibility and operational expenditure control that ODM equipment gave Atlancis in developing a predictable cost input model,” Njuguna says.

What really intrigued him was the combination of ODM equipment and the Open Compute Project (OCP). Njuguna and Webala had been keeping a close eye on the evolution of the OCP since it was launched by Facebook in the same year that they formed Atlancis. Through collective engineering and the active sharing of ideas, OCP initiative is designed to accelerate the pace of innovation both within and beyond the data center, which made it a great fit for Servernah.

“The flexibility of open source promised to deliver value, optimal performance, comprehensive scalability and ultimately a competitive advantage for us. We were excited by the opportunity to leverage these technologies and their clear advantages in Kenya and across Africa.”

By Njuguna’s estimation, moving to OCP solutions would shrink capital expenditure by as much as half, leading to considerable savings on the cost of procurement. What’s more, the open platform would also cut operational expenditure—that is, the ongoing costs of maintenance, power and support—by nearly 30%.

Freedom from proprietary lock-in would drive a large part of those savings while giving Atlancis more control over application-specific optimizations. In turn, customers would be able to redirect their IT budget savings toward supporting core business activities.

And there was a further, often overlooked benefit to OCP hardware: minimal environmental impact.

“In curbing greenhouse gas emissions by up to twenty-five percent each year, OCP solutions are significantly more sustainable than vanity brand hardware,” says Njuguna.

The resulting decision to adopt open technology for its Servernah cloud platform would make Atlancis the first information and communications technology (ICT) services provider in Africa to embrace OCP. But the act of deciding wasn’t enough. It would take the right strategic partner to realize their ambitious vision of open computing.

ITRenew: Open for Business

With those ideals in mind, Atlancis turned to ITRenew, a Platinum Member of the OCP that had already been actively involved in the organization for nearly a decade.

“Our first interaction with ITRenew was when we were working with Vesper Technologies, a UK-based systems integrator, to build our Servernah cloud platform. We were primarily trying to maximize compute, storage and network inventory on a fixed budget.”

“Many companies talk about OCP and are even working on it, but it was clear that ITRenew was delivering actual solutions for the broader market, right now. We could take our vision and make it a reality,” Njuguna states.

Because ITRenew’s Sesame solutions are built on OCP principles and OCP certified, they offer a number of design advantages over proprietary solutions. For example, Sesame server racks centralize power into shelves that deliver a superior “N+2” model, meaning there are always two spare power supplies. Not only is this more efficient and less expensive than traditional OEM designs that attach two small power supply units to each server, it offers far better redundancy in the event of a failure.

The Sesame server racks themselves are a standard 24 inches wide. But they maximize the space that OEM racks often waste, thereby allowing three nodes to fit side by side in the space typically occupied by the usual two. That translates to up to 50% more compute and storage power within a standard rack footprint.

Furthermore, Sesame solutions arrive complete and ready to deploy. Server, storage and networking components are all integrated and everything is pre-qualified, tested and assembled. This kind of plug-and-play convenience allows customers to be running production workloads on their new Sesame servers in as little as half an hour.

In addition to increasing efficiency and lowering complexity, customer confidence in the open architecture solutions they planned to implement was top of mind for Atlancis. Sesame solved for that too, starting with gear that delivers superior performance, durability and reliability, and backing it with in-country support, ready access to spare parts for easy maintenance, and full warranties on all solutions.

A trusted Open Compute Project (OCP) partner

Lower TCO through reduced capital and operating expenditures

Turnkey deployment alongside proven logistical and warranty support

Mutual appreciation for the circular economy’s economic and environmental benefits

Given optimizations like these, Njuguna saw Sesame as the best way for Atlancis to equip its Servernah data centers. Sesame’s turnkey solutions offer exactly the kind of flexible, scalable, high-performance compute and storage technology he was after, competitively priced and without the lock-in of “vanity brands.”

In line with OCP values, Sesame also epitomizes the circular economy by re-engineering and repurposing existing IT assets, the same ones used by the world leading hyperscalers to handle their most demanding workloads. This gives premium, high-performance rack-scale solutions a valuable second life. Along with reducing waste associated with manufacturing processes, Sesame’s high-density server configurations deliver more efficient cooling and power over their entire lifecycle.

Environmental benefits like these are reflected in the bottom line. They save on operating expenditure through power efficiency and resilience. They save on capital expenditure through more streamlined engineering. As a result, Sesame has been shown to deliver a 50% total cost of ownership advantage over conventional solutions.

“THE IDEA OF THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY REALLY SPOKE TO US. WITH ITRENEW’S SESAME SOLUTIONS, WE CAN HAVE IT ALL — FLEXIBILITY AND PERFORMANCE FROM SYSTEMS THAT ARE COMPETITIVELY PRICED AND SIGNIFICANTLY MORE SUSTAINABLE.”

Sesame and OCP now form the technological bedrock for three of Atlancis’ core business units: the Servernah cloud platform, OCP systems integration and managed services, and industry-focused SaaS solutions like their popular digital education platform iLearn.

Servernah Cloud is being used by organizations of all shapes and sizes, with disparate requirements. “We have SMEs utilizing our CCTV Back Up services, Government organizations on our Infrastructure as a Service platform and Enterprises using Servernah for DRaaS, supporting their production deployments that Atlancis has also built on Open Compute platforms.”

Servernah has some very large competitors in the form of the Global Hyperscalers, but customers are choosing Atlancis Technologies for a number of reasons. Servernah was designed around the African customer, importantly for data sovereignty, all data is held within its Kenyan Data Centers and does not cross borders; Servernah also provides local 24 x 7 x 365 support.

Njuguna said, “we are already planning our next OCP infrastructure acquisition as we are reaching utilization thresholds of our 8,000 cores, 32Tb RAM, 7.8 Petabytes of storage and 400G networking.”

Looking Ahead: #africaisopen

Atlancis’ embrace of open technology turned out to be prescient. The Kenyan government recently indicated that open solutions should be the default wherever possible in public procurement channels. That’s part of a larger, continent-wide trend toward open standards among communications providers, enterprises and NGOs. The popular social media hashtag #africaisopen captures that emerging mindset.

“Across governments, mobile network operators, ISPs and the enterprise, we believe that Africa is primed to move to heavy adoption of OCP hardware like Sesame by ITRenew,” says Njuguna. “Our customers, both current and prospective, are drawn to OCP for its cost benefits, environmental sustainability, flexibility and scalability, interoperability and freedom from vanity brand lock-in.”

Always with one eye on the future, Atlancis is currently looking to leverage its strategic partnership with ITRenew to deliver affordable turnkey platform solutions to a larger and more diverse customer base. That could very well consist of the full technology stack configured with software-defined storage and networking along with integrated hardware, software and services. Not content with being the first African company in its field to champion the OCP, Atlancis also has designs to become Africa’s first OEM.

ITRenew, the Circular Cloud leader, refuses to settle for a world that pits economic success against social good. ITRenew creates second lives and reuse pathways for the most advanced technology on the planet, bringing circular economic benefits to the data center and IT hardware industry. This approach to unprecedented data, application workload and infrastructure demands opens up billions in new financial opportunity, slashes e-waste and CO2 impact, and makes hyperscale hardware accessible to and affordable for all. Our products and services power cloud and enterprise data centers, edge infrastructure, AI/ML, embedded and industrial systems, which is why the world’s leading data center owners, service providers and enterprises choose ITRenew to revolutionize how their infrastructure is managed and deployed.