- There are cloud adoption challenges that many African businesses face beyond the financial impediments.
Dar es Salaam. It wasn’t even 10 years ago that cloud technology felt like a slice of fringe tech that many businesses saw as unnecessary in the face of their own sprawling on-premise IT infrastructure.
Today, cloud is a booming industry in which organisations continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and provide new and improved solutions for critical problems – and the best part is – it is available to everyone no matter how big or how small.
Year after year, the globe has witnessed cloud leveling the playing field, unlocking access to resources and technologies previously reserved only for those who could afford to buy, own and manage it.
David Brooks, who is the Liquid Intelligent Technologies senior specialist in the Product Management, Liquid Cloud and Cyber Security department, tells The Citizen that with the proliferation of global cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure, the utility of cloud has become endless.
However, he adds, there are cloud adoption challenges that many African businesses face beyond the financial impediments.
These can include technical concerns such as latency and access to international bandwidth and a wave of new regulations calling for sensitive data to remain within the borders.
This is driving a divide between countries that have access to hyper-scale public cloud providers in their country and those that don't.
How these challenges can be overcome.
Mr Brooks believes that giving a room for local servers will lead to lower latency.
“The allure of cloud technology like Microsoft Azure is that it can become a tech equaliser between start-ups and large organisations,” he says.
Adding: “Resources can be accessed in real-time by the hour, making development and testing more efficient and reducing the need for large capital-intensive hardware expenditure.”
The premise of cloud is that everything you need is stored on a server, preferably in your region of operation.
In Africa, this is seldom the case as data centres are few and far between.
Let’s take Microsoft Azure, for instance. Microsoft has set up two major data centres where it houses local servers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Four years ago, the entire continent was utilising servers in Western Europe.
That meant all of Africa was subject to high latency.
While this is not particularly damaging, the pace of technological evolution is demanding much faster turnaround times when it comes to computational power.
It has now become critical for many businesses and industries that rely on real-time applications or live streaming, including banking, diagnostic imaging, navigation, stock trading, weather forecasting, collaboration, research, ticket sales, video broadcasting, online gaming, and more.
Local servers provide lower latency, but they can also help businesses comply with evermore popular data privacy regulations being enforced in numerous African states – some more stringent than others.
In most cases, there is an element of data sovereignty or the requirement to "keep data within the borders".
This poses unique challenges to organisations looking to adopt cloud technologies while not having a Hyper-Scale cloud provider like Azure in their country.
Solving for local data needs
Azure stack offers a solution to this problem by filling the gap and bringing resources closer to end-users.
Simply put, it provides the ability to bring Azure Cloud resources to a server hosted at an organisation's offices or in a local data centre.
Yet, the setting up and running of one’s own server defies the point of cloud as this is exactly what most businesses were trying to avoid in the first place.
Luckily, according to Mr Brooks, companies like Liquid teamed up with Microsoft Azure to establish Liquid Azure regions.
“In these regions, we have set up a mini-data centre in collaboration with Microsoft to provide local businesses in certain regions with local hosting capabilities,” he recounts.
This is where companies can store and utilise sensitive and private information that is meant to be stored in the country.
“We then integrate these servers with the greater Azure landscape to provide the full benefits of the public cloud for data that doesn’t need to be bogged down by national regulations,” he narrates.
In essence, this extension to Public Azure allows its users to store and process data locally on the appliance and still leverage the large-scale power and technologies that can only be delivered from a Hyper-Scale Cloud.
So far, Liquid has set up Liquid Azure regions in Dar es Salaam, Kigali, Nairobi, and Harare.
“With four Liquid Azure regions live, and a lot more in the works across the continent, Africa is poised to get the full advantage of cloud innovation with partners like Liquid and Microsoft spurring on our success,” says Mr Brooks.
It’s only upwards from here
The truth is, Africa currently accounts for less than one percent of total available global data centre capacity, according to official data.
However, its capacity has doubled in the past three years.
“With more official data centres from the likes of Microsoft, and more locally relevant solutions like Liquid Azure regions, we are well on our way to fulfilling our mission to create a digitally connected future that leaves no African behind,” asserts Mr Brooks.
In line with its mission to create a digitally connected future that leaves no African behind, Liquid has rolled out shared Azure Stack environments in several countries.