by Olusegun Ogundeji

Africa’s cloud is hybrid, but adoption varies across regions

Feb 12, 2020
Cloud ComputingHybrid CloudIT Strategy

Cloud readiness depends on conditions -- including infrastructure reliability, cloud POP presence, and regulatory regime -- within each region, and even each country.

hybrid cloud services data center network server private public
Credit: Getty Images

Globally, CIOs see hybrid cloud as the future, and this is more true in Africa than in other regions due to a variety of factors including spotty infrastructure, regulatory regimes that often hamper telecommunications buildout, and a general wariness toward third-party outsourcing.

A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index Report finds that 85 percent of the 2,650 IT decision makers surveyed in multiple industries and business sizes from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Africa see hybrid cloud as their ideal IT operating model.

IBM touts hybrid cloud as the darling of digital banking following its embrace by the likes of Bank of America and Australia’s WestPac. The financial services arena in Africa is seeing similar moves. Top South African banks like Standard Bank and Old Mutual have chosen AWS as their preferred cloud provider to enable them to migrate part of their production workloads to the cloud.

Hybrid cloud has different definitions but essentially it is a computing environment designed to allow enterprises to run applications and share data simultaneously across multiple clouds — public and private — and on-premises data centres. In Africa, many enterprises will end up straddling public and private cloud environments by necessity, given the fact that public cloud services on the continent will for at least the medium term remain limited.

In Africa, even though top-line annual cloud services revenue will double in the 2018-2023 period to hit US$3.8 billion, at the moment only about 30 percent of the revenue generated is through public cloud, according to a Xalam Analytics “State of Cloud 2019” report on Africa. And even at the end of the period in question, about 60 percent of cloud revenue will come via private cloud services, Xalam predicted.

Applications and technologies best-suited for public cloud use in Africa, according to Trent Odgers, cloud and hosting manager for Africa for Veeam, would include artificial intelligence – more specifically, machine learning – for the large amount of data it requires. Software as a service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offered via public clouds are particularly attractive for CIOs looking to optimize costs, due to their ability to handle large data sets and applications and to scale infinitely without requiring large upfront capital-expenditure commitment.

Odgers adds that mission critical and sensitive data needed on location, workloads affected by latency, and sites where connectivity is still an issue would generally be suited for an on-premises IT environment.

But while these general truths hold throughout Africa, the story is not exactly the same throughout the continent.

Cloud adoption varies among regions

There is an obvious imbalance in cloud-market maturity among African countries and regions, due to differences in infrastructure, reliability of internet connections, data-protection laws, and general market readiness. So CIOs in different areas are not running the cloud race at the same pace, leaving many in an incongruent position relative to the current, widely held view that they are supposed to play a pivotal role in shaping their organisations’ business models. 

Distinguishing the African cloud market on the basis of different regions and seeing them separately is a remedy suggested by Wouter van Hulten, the founder of PAIX data centres, for CIOs to better understand the dynamics of the specific market they work in, and analyze their performance versus competitors.

“The state of the market in all the regions have to be compared separately because they are moving at different levels,” van Hulten said. “The state of development in all regions is completely different. It also means that it’s very hard to draw any conclusion on Africa (as a whole).” 

The North/Maghreb region (except Egypt) is best connected to Marseille, France, which acts as the digital gateway to Europe, said van Hulten. Hyperscale cloud services to this region are available from Europe.

Recent announcements by cloud players in Kenya suggest that the main hub for public cloud in East Africa is going to be Nairobi, even as connectivity has improved in another major city, Mombasa, following recent investments in infrastructure, van Hulten noted.

East Africa is generally considered the most developed cloud market in sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa, which is home to data centres run by major public cloud players such as Amazon and Microsoft.

Regulatory change spurs infrastructure

A key question is how did South Africa succeed in bringing the big cloud providers to their market first, van Hulten noted. “I think what you’d notice there is that the market has been smart in liberalising its telecom and they started quite early,” he said.

Market liberalization has encouraged ISPs to set up shop in the country and has made the overall telecoms sector very competitive. “The result is that the whole industry starts developing,” van Hulten said. “What you’ll find is the big picture — telecom liberalization allowing the telecom market to flourish, more fibre in the ground, competition between ISPs — that really then drives other elements. Across Africa, that’s the challenge.”

In West Africa, where Nigeria is the large market of interest to international enterprises, security and governance present formidable challenges. “West Africa is a large region. It’s totally an underdeveloped market. The number of people who live there is huge. But if you look at the footprint of data centre development, it is so small,” van Hulten said, pointing out that the region’s market hasn’t developed quickly because its  telecom industry “has a long way to go in opening up and being liberalised.” This has led to issues including the low number of existing fibre providers, lack of choice and competition among providers. 

Central Africa is also marked by a lack of data centers. Xalam Analytics counts three major cloud POPs (points of presence) throughout the region as of mid-2019.

But while there are similarities among countries in the same general region, some market observers say the pace of migration to the cloud should be seen not from a regional perspective per se but rather on a number of parameters that vary by country to country – for example in terms of connectivity, data hosting regulations and the size of the enterprise market.

Nations at different levels of cloud maturity

Xalam Analytics’ principal analyst, Guy Zibi, notes that there are countries that have been fast movers and some that have been laggards within a single region, creating a situation where, for example, Kenya’s adoption has been faster than Uganda’s in East Africa and Nigeria’s faster than the Ivory Coast’s in West Africa.

“We broadly group the markets in terms of the maturity of cloud adoption – in the African context,” Zibi said. Xalam puts different countries into broad categories of advanced, developing, nascent and latent.

 “South Africa and Kenya are considered ‘advanced,’ given the faster pace of adoption,” Zibi said. “Other African cloud markets are ‘developing’ — most conditions are in place and companies have started migrating though challenges remain (Nigeria, Ghana, and some of the North African countries fall here). ‘Nascent’ countries are only starting to envision and develop plans for migrating workloads (Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal). In “latent” countries, conditions for cloud technology adoption are not in place, and a migration to the cloud is not a consideration for most enterprises. Countries in the latent category include Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Regional and national market differences aside, vendors can play a part in encouraging the proliferation of cloud communities — ecosystems of professionals in different fields dedicated to furthering enterprise adoption of cloud technology – and in promoting hybrid cloud knowledge and security options, said Babatunde Abagun, channel manager for West, East and Central Africa at Nutanix.

Vendors highlight hybrid cloud advantages

Recent developments in technology and an understanding of what a “hybrid cloud” should look like can help cloud uptake, Abagun said. 

“Organizations like Nutanix and others have come up with hybrid enterprise cloud platforms that have security baked into the pillars of Infrastructure and inherently hardened for today’s cyber landscape, thus greatly reducing security risks,” Abagun said.  “Secondly, a true hybrid cloud management platform is one that gives the luxury of freedom and control. Freedom to move across clouds but 100 percent control being retained by the enterprise running it.” 

Service Level Agreements for QoS between service providers and customers are also important, Abagun said. Guaranteed internet service at costs appropriate for a given area help provide business value for on-premises infrastructure that can integrate with a public cloud for app mobility.

Ultimately, greater understanding and use of hybrid cloud technology can bring business innovation, Abagun said. “In my opinion, there is a direct proportion of business innovation initiatives with hybrid cloud adoption across Africa. Ergo, the latter will always mirror the former.”