Africa set to take dig­i­tal leap into the fu­ture

Cloud soft­ware gi­ants an­nounce plans that will ben­e­fit con­ti­nent

Sunday Times - - Business News - By ARTHUR GOLD­STUCK

● The re­cent news that Ama­zon Web Ser­vices plans to set up three data cen­tres in Cape Town is an in­di­ca­tion of a com­ing boom in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy (IT) spend­ing across Africa.

This is the view of ex­ec­u­tives and an­a­lysts at­tend­ing this week’s VM­world con­fer­ence in Barcelona, the big­gest cloud-com­put­ing con­fer­ence in Europe, run by cloud soft­ware lead­ers VMware, which is ma­jor­ity-owned by Dell Tech­nolo­gies.

“No con­ti­nent has ben­e­fited less from the cur­rent IT revo­lu­tion than Africa,” VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger told Busi­ness Times.

“There are still so many gaps Africa is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Kenya, Egypt, Nige­ria and SA are the good mar­kets, but it’s still in a Third World en­vi­ron­ment. Dig­i­tal gives Africa the abil­ity to leap ahead.”

Gelsinger pointed out that the growth rate in tech­nol­ogy spend glob­ally is dou­ble that of GDP growth, with en­ter­prise soft­ware ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a three­fold mul­ti­ple. Africa could well out­pace this growth.

“The rea­son is that every busi­ness has to be­come a tech­nol­ogy busi­ness. I was speak­ing to a real es­tate com­pany that said, ‘We were a real es­tate busi­ness that was in tech­nol­ogy, but we will even­tu­ally be a tech­nol­ogy com­pany that is in real es­tate.’ Banks too are be­gin­ning to say they are tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses that hap­pen to man­age money.”

Gelsinger said he re­cently met In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who put the op­por­tu­nity for Africa in per­spec­tive.

“As a politi­cian, he’s try­ing to touch as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. He said they will never have enough roads to con­nect all vil­lages for trans­port, but In­dia will have enough dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture to con­nect all vil­lages for com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“In Africa, will farm­ers have mo­bile ac­cess to ser­vices for buy­ing and sell­ing? Will schools in re­mote parts of Africa have world-class ed­u­ca­tion? “Will health-care ser­vices be able to ac­cess world-class ex­per­tise? Those are the op­por­tu­ni­ties. We can leap ahead.”

Gelsinger has a close affin­ity with Kenya and re­cently climbed Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in a fundrais­ing cam­paign to send chil­dren from Nairobi slums to school. VMware spon­sors 17,000 Nairobi school­child­ren.

Key­note ses­sions at VM­world for the past two years have in­cluded case stud­ies from Kenya. VMware also an­nounced a partnership with AWS to com­bine VMware’s pri­vate cloud ser­vices with AWS’s pub­lic cloud, in ef­fect a strate­gic al­liance be­tween the re­spec­tive gi­ants of those two mar­kets.

The com­bi­na­tion of pri­vate cloud, mean­ing it is usu­ally run on com­pa­nies’ own premises, and pub­lic cloud like AWS and Mi­crosoft Azure, is known as hy­brid cloud and is a dom­i­nant trend in cloud com­put­ing.

One of the pri­mary ben­e­fits of the partnership will be en­hanced abil­i­ties for com­pa­nies to man­age ap­pli­ca­tions and pro­cesses that need to run in AWS data cen­tres. They will also more eas­ily be able to move work­loads from other cloud providers on to AWS, and vice versa.

“It’s not only great for us but great for Africa,” said Lorna Hardie, re­gional di­rec­tor of VMware for Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. “There are many com­mon cus­tomers of VMware and AWS, and many tell us they’ve been wait­ing for this kind of an­nounce­ment.

“Es­pe­cially in the con­text of data sovereignty, mean­ing sen­si­tive data can’t be housed out­side the coun­try. Many cus­tomers have been mi­grat­ing only their less-crit­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions across to AWS.

“This will talk to mi­grat­ing their core ap­pli­ca­tions as well.”

Gelsinger added: “We ex­pect this ser­vice of­fer­ing to be very suc­cess­ful in Africa. There isn’t enough world-class cloud in­fra­struc­ture for busi­nesses in Africa to­day, and I ex­pect com­pa­nies will fairly quickly adopt the AWS cloud. VMware ser­vices on top of it will be pop­u­lar to build a hy­brid cloud ca­pa­bil­ity. As big in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies show up, they will find this world-class in­fra­struc­ture in place.”

VMware is also build­ing its pres­ence on Mi­crosoft’s Azure cloud plat­form, but the re­la­tion­ship is not as close. Ul­ti­mately, the abil­ity to in­te­grate a wide range of cloud ser­vices will be a key strength of VMware, as busi­nesses dis­trib­ute their data and soft­ware across mul­ti­ple host­ing ser­vices in what is known as mul­ti­cloud strat­egy.

“We haven’t an­nounced a partnership to the same depth and breadth as with AWS, but we have been ex­pand­ing ser­vices on Azure and the Google Cloud,” said Gelsinger.

“We’ve an­nounced re­la­tion­ships with Alibaba and with IBM. They all see VMware as the mul­ti­cloud and hy­brid cloud part­ner of choice for their cus­tomers.”

Roy Ill­s­ley, prin­ci­pal an­a­lyst for global re­search and con­sult­ing firm Ovum, agrees the pace of IT growth in Africa is set to ac­cel­er­ate. “AWS com­ing to Cape Town was a good move as get­ting a foothold there at the start of this mar­ket growth is key,” he said.

The op­por­tu­nity for VMware, he said, is that the com­pany’s so­lu­tions give busi­nesses an “easy jour­ney path” into any of the com­ing cloud en­vi­ron­ments.

“It de-com­pli­cates and de-risks the process. And with the IT skills short­age be­ing a chal­lenge for or­gan­i­sa­tions, that abil­ity to move work­loads away from their own premises would be a good way for them to ad­dress the short sup­ply of skills.”

Gold­stuck is founder of World Wide Worx and edi­tor-in-chief of Gad­get.co.za

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Pic­ture: Reuters/Noor Khamis

Schools such as this one in Nairobi’s Kib­era slum would ben­e­fit from the IT revo­lu­tion headed for the con­ti­nent.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

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