by Olusegun Ogundeji

Despite growth, obstacles to public cloud in Africa remain

Nov 11, 2019
Cloud ComputingData CenterIT Strategy

Infrastructure, bandwidth and regulatory issues throttle cloud expansion as industry insiders analyze best practices, workarounds and alternatives.

cloud computing / cloud network
Credit: Denis Isakov / Getty Images

African CIOs are increasingly tapping the internet to optimize costs and offer innovative services, but obstacles to public cloud usage appear destined to hamper enterprises on the continent for some time to come.

Even though revenue generated by African public cloud providers increased 60% over the past three years to about US$500 million last year, it accounts for only 5 % of the continent’s total enterprise ICT market, according to Xalam Analytics.

“To date, the African market has been a predominantly private cloud market; by our estimates, only ~30% of African cloud service revenue is generated in the public cloud,” according to Xalam’s ‘State of Cloud 2019’ report.

Public cloud services revenue will triple, to hit about US$1.5 billion in 2023, but even then it will account for just 40 percent of all cloud revenue, according to Xalam.

This means that, as African enterprises look to the cloud to innovate, they will be underserved by public cloud providers, say industry insiders.

To a certain extent, some of the issues African enterprises face are also global. Nearly three quarters (73%) of businesses worldwide report that they are not able to meet their users’ demands for uninterrupted access to applications and data globally in 2019, according to Veeam’s latest cloud data management report. Though that’s an improvement from the 82% reported by Veeam in 2017, it signifies a widespread problem.

African cloud lags rest of world

Still, Africa’s public cloud remains stunted compared to the rest of the world. Globally, less than 1% of estimated global public cloud services revenue was generated in Africa as of 2018, Xalam reports. While globally, 92% of enterprises uses public cloud services, for example, in Africa 30% to 40% of medium and large enterprises use IaaS (infrastructure as a services) services, Xalam said.

African enterprises, pubic administrations, telecom infrastructure providers and public cloud vendors are working hard to overcome infrastructure issues, figure out workarounds, and encourage cloud adoption and data-centre best practices. This week, for example, data centre and public cloud issues will be a major focus of Africacom, the biggest ICT event on the continent.

Meanwhile, key hurdles to growth of public cloud services in Africa are likely to linger. One issue is regulation.

“Because a number of African countries have data sovereignty and compliance laws that prevent data from leaving the country, it would mean that public cloud providers would need to build an offering for each country,” said Trent Odgers, Veeam’s cloud and hosting manager for Africa. “This does not make sense from an ROI perspective.”

Such regulations have been implemented due to data privacy and security concerns, but they create the impression that the public cloud is not safe, according to Corne du Preez, cloud specialist at Altron Karabina, a software services and Microsoft solutions provider based in Johannesburg.

South Africa is home to the only public hyperscale data centres on the continent so far, with Microsoft having established two enterprise-grade facilities in the country this year, and Amazon and Google about to follow.

But even in countries where cloud service providers have set up shop, energy issues abound, raising costs. For example, South Africa’s utility provider Eskom this year engineered electrical power shutdowns to ease the load on their facilities, forcing data centre providers to run their own generators.

The essential problem, though, is infrastructure, du Preez said.

“Public cloud data centres will only be prevalent throughout Africa if the problems with bandwidth can be addressed,” du Preez said.

Infrastructure improves, but needs to be better

Progress has been made in infrastructure. For example, pan-African carrier Liquid Telecom has created a terrestrial fibre network across much of its region and its sister company, Africa Data Centres, already has facilities in South Africa and Kenya. Other service and data center providers building out infrastructure in Africa include, fibre-operator Main One, Etix Everythwere, Icolo and Pan-African Internet Exchange.

But much remains to be done before reliable infrastructure is available throughout the vast expanse of sub-Saharan Africa. “Although there are a number of fibre connections up the East and West Coast of Africa, the network infrastructure in African countries are either not available, or too expensive to consider,” du Preez said.

With bandwidth costs at a premium, enterprises may prioritize, since not all applications necessarily should be moved to the cloud.

“Custom bespoke legacy applications should stay on-premise” du Preez said. “The cost of refactoring, reforming and rehosting these applications may just not be cost effective for companies.

But the many technologies that benefit from the public cloud include emerging technology such as artificial intelligence applications, particularly machine learning, due to the large amount of data they require and their ability to scale infinitely, noted Veeam’s Odgers.

Three sub-Saharan markets are cloud-ready

At the moment, Xalam estimates that  only three sub-Saharan markets can be considered cloud-ready: South Africa, Mauritius, and Kenya. These countries combine good underlying cloud enabling infrastructure with broad enterprise awareness of cloud services. Even markets with widespread understanding of cloud benefits will be plagued by supply-side issues for at least the medium-term, Xalam reports.

For now, enterprises are seeking infrastructure workarounds and alternatives to public cloud hyperscale data centres.

“We have many providers building Azure Stack to deliver public cloud capabilities at a lower cost and in country,” noted du Preez, referring to Microsoft’s private cloud environment for Azure. Other options include similar offerings from Oracle and IBM, which have a solid presence in Africa, notes Xalam, adding that VMWare is the primary challenger to pure cloud plays on the continent.