Hassan Alnaqabi
Hassan Al Naqbi of Khazna Data Centers said: “What’s available as data storage capacity in the UAE is not enough to serve the full demand that’s coming. That’s why I say we are just getting started.” Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A market share of an awe-inducing 75-80 per cent should be enough to satisfy any CEO’s craving for sheer dominance. Not for Hassan AlNaqbi.

The CEO of Abu Dhabi’s Khazna Data Centers is as voracious to get more as the industry he is in – data storage. “In the past three years, the demand for data storage soared because of the many hyper-scalers and cloud companies coming into the country,” said Al Naqbi. “Starting now, the government is accelerating its need for data with digital economies and ‘smart city’ programmes picking up really well.

Khazna Data Centers sure is prepping up, with new facilities being constructed to add to the ones it already operates. It has brought all of the data centres operated by G42, the Abu Dhabi headquartered investment group, and that of e& (formerly Etisalat) under its fold. That adds to the heft Khazna already carries. (G42 and e& are Khazna’s shareholders as well, holding 60- and 40 per cent, respectively.)

Khazna Data Center
UAE and Gulf governments are speeding up data transformation and blockchain adoption, and when that happens there is always a soaring need for more data storage.

Data storage is showing all signs of becoming one of the pillars driving the UAE and Gulf’s technology sector in the medium-term. In the local market, apart from Khazna, there are some international names operating, while Hussain Sajwani of Damac fame recently made a move into this space, targeting local and overseas operations.

With digital at the centre of economies, data – and how it is generated, stored and used – has created distinct business possibilities. “The UAE needs 340MW in the next 5 years and a market like Saudi Arabia 1.3GW in 8 years,” the CEO added. “These are significant capacities that need to be raised. In this business, there’s no point for actual demand to show up before data centers are actually built. All of that needs to be done in advance.

“That’s because of the acceleration in data sovereignty and the sheer hunger for anything that’s data-related.”

G42-e& combo

Bringing together all of the data centers operated by G42 and e& under Khazna was about creating a ‘powerhouse’. It was last year that G42-e& announced such a plan, and all of the processes came together earlier this month. What this does is allow Khazna to operate 12 data centers, have another 13 on the way, and a further three in the pipeline. These add up to more than 300MW in planned capacity by end of next year.

Data travels well

Even with its energies and cash resources focused on widening the number of data centers in its home market, Al Naqabi wants to take Khazna beyond the borders. Some of the Gulf markets are seen as ripe for opportunities as are those in the Far East. “You will be surprised at how these markets are under-served on data capacity,” the CEO said. “This is why we want to go overseas – there are real opportunities.”

Data and sovereignty
The UAE has regulations in place that require critical data generated from within to be stored in-country. When it was issued in December last, this was seen as a critical piece of legislation in the gradual transition to a fully-fledged digital economy.

The Data Protection Law covered personal data of individuals and would apply to both controllers and processors located in the UAE and outside. “The intention from the legislation is to base all critical data in-country, and that’s how it should be,” said Hassan Al Naqbi of Khazna Data Centers.

“Similar rules will be enforced by other jurisdictions too – we have identified a select few markets in the Gulf, North Africa and Asia-Pacific where we can build a land bank for the data centers. There could be joint ventures if that helps access those markets faster.”