South Africa and Kenya are worlds apart in their embrace of information technology, but they have one thing in common: they jointly lead the African continent in having the biggest impact of cloud computing on customer experience across 7 major African markets.
This was one of the most significant findings of the final results of the Cloud in Africa 2023 study released recently by World Wide Worx, with support from F5, Red Hat, Dell Technologies, Intel and VMware. The study, based on interviews with 400 information technology decision makers in medium and large organisations across Africa, found that 63% of respondents across the continent had experienced an extremely positive impact on customer experience as a result of cloud computing. In South Africa and Kenya, that number jumped to 71%.
I had an interview with Christopher Saul, Territory Sales Lead, Red Hat East Africa & Andrew Hindshaw, Partner Account Manager, Red Hat Africa to further understand this report.
What factors contribute to South Africa and Kenya’s success in the adoption of cloud computing, particularly in terms of customer experience and business growth?
Kenya has plenty of tech savvy companies who are always looking for technology that will give them an edge, so it’s no surprise that cloud computing generates as much interest here as elsewhere.
Red Hat’s customers in Kenya have approached the promise of cloud from a very practical angle, reviewing where they can get value in the short term, whilst balancing current ‘on prem’ purchases with the expectation that their cloud footprints are only going to grow as data sovereignty legislation adapts and full local points of presence from the major cloud providers come to fruition.
A hybrid approach is what naturally follows. Lots of our customers have moved their test and dev environments to the cloud and are following a ‘cloud first’ approach – if it makes financial and legal sense to deploy a new application on the cloud, that’s where it will go.
For other customers, where an on prem deployment is needed due to data sovereignty legislations, the resulting deployment can still be cloud ready – ready to move to the cloud when the time arises.
Red Hat are the first choice for the platform many of those applications will be deployed on, as we can provide the same underlying technologies either on prem or on any of the major cloud vendors. This way customers can be sure they can run their apps where it makes sense for them to do so, avoid being locked into one cloud provider and so on.
Many ISVs in the telco and FSI industries have now containerised their latest releases and specify Red Hat OpenShift as their preferred platform, leaving the customer the choice of whether to deploy on premise, or on any of the major cloud providers.
The study shows a significant disparity in the impact of cloud computing on innovation between South Africa and Kenya. Can you elaborate on the possible reasons for this disparity?
One possible reason may be that some customers see cloud as simply another place to host their IT. Customers who reap the most benefit from the cloud and find it impacts their ability to innovate are those who embrace a cloud approach across their IT strategy, whether on premise or on a cloud provider’s platform. A cloud approach involves automating wherever possible and adopting technologies that make application development and deployment much quicker. If the cloud is simply seen as a slightly cheaper way to host systems, the ability to innovate won’t be affected.
What challenges do companies in Africa face in their adoption of cloud computing, and how can these challenges be addressed?
Data sovereignty legislation means that many businesses are obliged to keep certain information within the country. The lack of a major point of presence from, say, AWS or Azure in country obviously limits what can move to those clouds.
There are also the usual challenges with connectivity and power.
However, African customers are innovative and flexible and are used to these challenges and how to overcome them.
It’s important to remember that cloud computing does not necessarily mean simply hosting your IT systems in someone else’s datacentre. You can still apply cloud principles to what you host on your own premises. You can choose platforms that allow you to move your workloads seamlessly when the time comes. You can modernise and containerise your applications, automate common tasks and standardise on platforms that you know can run anywhere, so you are ready to move workloads when the time comes.
Being ‘cloud ready’ or ‘cloud first’ is a mindset we see many African customers following today in their own datacentres, regardless of whether there is a major cloud provider in country or not.
The study highlights the varying levels of maturity in cloud computing adoption across African countries. Can you discuss how these levels of maturity affect the benefits that companies can derive from cloud computing?
Companies that adopt a cloud computing mindset want IT to be closely aligned to business outcomes and want to be able to move as efficient as possible when it comes to delivering and improving the services and products their businesses offer their customers. Those services should able to run wherever it makes the best legal and financial sense to run them.
Any company that follows this approach is going to have a competitive advantage over similar businesses in the market.
As mentioned above, cloud computing is not just about hosting your datacentre somewhere else, it’s about a mindset. Companies that adopt that mindset now are going to be well positioned for the future.
The study found that fewer than half of South African companies identified security as a major benefit of cloud computing. Can you explain why this is the case, and what measures companies can take to improve their security posture in the cloud?
From a Kenyan perspective, security is obviously just as important in the cloud as it is on premise. If you are taking security seriously on premise, hosting your data and apps in the cloud will continue to be a priority, but simply moving things to the cloud won’t magically solve security issues you may already be facing.
That said, to continue the theme of approaching every aspect of your IT strategy with a ‘cloud ready’ mindset, a cloud approach makes security a default part of everything you do. One simple example we see is that customers making full use of automation technologies [Ansible] are able to remove the danger of human error when deploying firewalls, networking tools, operating systems and applications. Trivial human error – forgetting to change a default password or closing a port for example – are often the cause of major security breaches. Automation significantly reduces the chances of these events occurring.
The study suggests that cloud computing is not a one-size-fits-all solution in Africa. Can you discuss how companies can tailor their cloud computing strategies to their specific needs and circumstances?
Sadly there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all for any kind of technology!
Based on what I have seen over the past few years working with customers at various stages of their cloud journeys, here are four pieces of advice I would give.
- As mentioned above, the lack of a full point of presence from a major cloud provider does not mean you cannot adopt a ‘cloud mindset’ now when it comes to making your on premise choices and choosing your strategy for the next few years. You can automate common tasks, choose platforms now that can move easily to the cloud when the time comes, modernise applications with the cloud in mind and so on. Start doing this today and you’ll reap benefits, even if the move to a major cloud provider’s in country datacentre, is still some way off.
- Identify some quick wins. Hosting test and dev environments in the cloud is often an easy first step.
- Choose platforms on which to deploy your cloud based applications that are available on all the major vendors. The cloud offers all sorts of advantages, but keep an eye out to avoid potential vendor lock in.
- When planning deployments in cloud environments, talk to all your vendors and ask them to work together. There are often a few more things to consider than when planning a typical on premise deployment. Get them all in a room, explain your vision and ask them to collaborate to achieve it. Make sure there are no surprises around support or unexpected licensing requirements. Don’t deal separately with each vendor, make a purchase and then try to put it all together – every box should be ticked first so that your first deployment is guaranteed to be a success. Your vendors will appreciate this approach as much as your managers will!
What are the trends and outlook for cloud computing adoption in Africa, and what do you see as the main drivers and challenges for its continued growth?
The future is obviously bright and the cloud is clearly the way things are going. We will see cloud computing going from strength to strength in Africa for all the reasons mentioned in the report.
At the risk of banging the same drum too much in this article, the major barrier I see is customers deciding to to carry on as normal just because they don’t have a major cloud provider in country. If legislation or connectivity challenges mean you can’t host services elsewhere in the world, nothing prevents the adoption of a cloud first and cloud ready mentality now, in your own datacentre. That alone gives you numerous advantages, whilst guaranteeing your eventual move to the ‘real’ cloud goes smoothly when the time comes.