Will data centre investment be the catalyst for cloud adoption in Africa?

Will data centre investment be the catalyst for cloud adoption in Africa?

Neil Templeton, VP, Marketing, Console Connect, investigates Africa’s data centre landscape over the course of the year as well as how it is set to evolve in 2023. He considers the potential of cloud technology for accelerating data centre investment across the continent. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses and the economy, one silver lining is that the event became a catalyst for rapid change and innovation within the enterprise.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, businesses were forced to rethink their operational processes and cater to staff caught in lockdowns turned to technology for solutions – and the cloud provided the answer.

2022 is the year of ‘big change’ for the continent. Major investment has been made over the last 12 months in new data centre infrastructure, while the arrival of more hyperscale cloud providers on the continent will be a game-changer for locally based businesses.

Cloud services provide the scalability, agility and cost savings necessary for Digital Transformation. Across many sectors, ranging from finance, professional services, transport, construction and energy, we are seeing an acceleration in cloud adoption.

To better understand the drivers and barriers to cloud adoption in the region, Console Connect commissioned analyst firm, Balancing Act, to produce the second edition of the Africa Interconnection Report. The report includes interviews with 100 organisations in over 20 African countries, including large and medium sized businesses across a range of industry verticals.

The year of the ‘big change’

Since the publication of our last report in 2020, there has been unprecedented levels of announced

investment in data centres.

According to Balancing Act, somewhere between US$5-6 billion will be invested in carrier neutral data centres in Africa over the next three to five years. For the first time, we have seen major investment in Africa from international data centre operators.

Digital Realty marked its arrival with the acquisition of Teraco, Medallion and iColo, while Equinix completed its US$320 million acquisition of MainOne. Vantage has also invested US$1 billion in the region.

Meanwhile, regional players such as Africa Data Centres and WIOCC’s Open Access Data Centres have also continued to invest in new facilities.

According to Balancing Act, the number of carrier-neutral data centres in the region has increased from 20 to 50 over the last two years, with a further 68 data centres in the pipeline.

South Africa continues to be a major regional hub with its data centre capacity surpassing the 100MW milestone. While other countries are still in tens or single digits, the arrival of more subsea networks, such as Google’s Equiano, A2Africa and the PEACE cable, are providing much-needed additional bandwidth capacity.

This will be critical for the region’s data centre and cloud ecosystem. Progress is not moving equally among African countries, but the report identifies that things are moving in the right direction.

Avoiding the legacy trap

The 2022 Africa Interconnection Report identifies that many companies and employees accelerated their transition to hybrid or remote working models during COVID-19. Local companies that have moved ahead with cloud technologies also acknowledged a number of benefits, from scalability and speed to off-the-shelf, easily accessible SaaS tools.

Businesses with no legacy attitudes and equipment are also finding themselves in an advantageous situation and are much further along with their Digital Transformation journey. Evidence of this is found within the region’s vibrant start-up community, which is leveraging the cloud to build successful businesses in areas such as FinTech and online delivery services.

But the report also identifies a number of barriers to cloud adoption. Among those is a challenge that many businesses worldwide face right now: the skills shortage.

When it comes to the cloud, the skills shortage is being felt more acutely by African businesses. The report identifies that the current talent pool is not deep enough to sustain the growth in cloud adoption and that many organisations are unwilling to pay premiums for IT skills. Likewise, low levels of management awareness and understanding of cloud were also identified as holding back businesses.

The report also exposed some uncertainty around data sovereignty – with some survey respondents unsure about evolving legislation and the requirement to host data locally.

Something which is perhaps more uniquely an African challenge is around connectivity. Survey respondents pointed to the cost, reliability and speed of bandwidth as being the biggest barriers to cloud adoption in the region.

Addressing future network needs

Significant investment in new data centre infrastructure and subsea cable networks, coupled with the arrival of more hyperscale cloud providers, looks set to be the catalyst for cloud adoption in Africa.

But as businesses push ahead with their cloud journey and migrate more of their mission-critical workloads and applications to the cloud, now is a good time for them to re-evaluate their existing network architecture.

Many businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa today still access their cloud services via the public Internet.

Although this may appear convenient and affordable, it does not meet increasingly stringent requirements around security and performance when moving data and workloads between cloud services and the people and applications that require them.

The emergence of Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) platforms, such as Console Connect, can help businesses in Africa overcome this challenge. Advancements in Software-Defined Networking (SDN) has made it easier to access high-performance networks and create a dedicated connection to the cloud that drives efficiency and reduces cost for businesses.

It will be very interesting to see how the region leverages network automation to meet its future cloud needs.

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