Africa set to take digital leap into the future
Cloud software giants announce plans that will benefit continent
● 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
Schools such as this one in Nairobi’s Kibera slum would benefit from the IT revolution headed for the continent.
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger