Fundamental to the digital transformation process and becoming an always-on enterprise is access to data, be it mission-critical, business-critical, or other. This requirement underpins every aspect of business as companies cannot be competitive without having high-speed and reliable access to the data hosted on a server, whether it is on-premise or in a data centre. In a world where virtualisation has become standard and businesses are doing more to understand customers using all manner of new data types, this connectivity to data takes on a whole new level of importance.

Recently, Microsoft announced that it will roll out hyperscale data centres in South Africa over the coming months. As could be expected, this generated significant excitement in not only the local market but throughout Africa. In many respects, I believe this move could be the first of many similar headlines, heralding a new age of investment in the continent as other multinational organisations follow suit with their own data centres.

A ’game-changer’ for African business

Consider for a moment the impact this could have on business across industry sectors. While significant investments have already been made across the continent in fibre and other high-speed technologies (think satellite and undersea cables), accessing a data centre in Europe or the United States for critical business data is not very efficient for an African business.

Having a company as significant as Microsoft open data centres in Africa is, I believe, a game-changer. Despite smaller service providers coming up with innovative ways of solving bandwidth issues, a multinational organisation arriving in this way can create a new market, and help smaller providers re-imagine their offerings, innovating their approach and speed of change to hardware shifts and customer requirements.

Suddenly, availability can be enhanced by having this local access to data centres. With fibre, we have already seen speeds are vastly improved across the continent. But having a nearfield Azure data centre will enhance this even further. Low latency and improved accessibility enables an organisation to deploy additional services to its operations across the continent without being concerned about the link to offshore data centres.

For example, existing speeds between South African businesses using Azure services hosted in the US are, on average, approximately 200 milliseconds. The new local data centres could see this drop to around 10 milliseconds if not faster. While smaller businesses may be less concerned by this significant advancement, CIOs and CISOs of enterprise-level businesses will, I believe, have their heads turned.

Making the cloud a more enticing offer

With these resultant increases in speed, the African market is expected to embrace a renewed push towards cloud and service provider technologies. Already, providers are integrating these virtualised environments into almost every new product feature.

This means that businesses are required to change their approach to data protection. The 2017 Veeam Availability Report shows that more companies are considering the cloud as a viable springboard to their digital agenda with software-as-a-service investment expected to increase by more than 50 percent in the next 12 months. In embracing this, companies are also able to address some of the concerns around slow economic growth and move from capital to operational expenditure models.

Getting a business up and running after an outage

According to the Availability Report, 43 percent of business leaders believe cloud providers can deliver better service levels for mission-critical data than their internal IT processes. And with the upcoming launch of the local Azure data centres, some of the concerns around getting a business back up and running quickly are addressed. But availability will remain important in this environment as more services are being offered, generating even more data.

The rate of change this brings to a service offering is significant. So, instead of providing somewhat broad solutions, a company can specialise in niche value propositions. Additionally, fibre access takes care of some of the challenges of accessing international data centres. Businesses can now almost tap directly in to the local data centres and have opportunities to disrupt operations across their sectors because of this.

Companies can now focus on true solution innovation without such significant concerns over connectivity and availability. What this now means for digital transformation on the continent is truly exciting. Now, all stakeholders across the supply chain can investigate new ways of doing business. Azure allows organisations to quickly deploy infrastructures and services to meet any business need. And, with virtual machines starting from approximately R190 per month and an SQL database from R73 per month, affordability is a key focus area. Potentially, the African data centres might make these costs even more competitive when compared to rival offerings from further afield in the world.

In this environment, always-on availability is no longer something that can only be achieved by large enterprises with big budgets. Availability is now an enabler to take advantage of the digital world. On a continent where entrepreneurship is an integral component of doing business, this means Africa can now combine true innovation with the desired technology support of local data centres.

This is certainly good news for South Africa and the continent in general as we are entering an exciting time for cloud adoption. With the number of businesses using the cloud and related services set to expand significantly in the coming year, it is encouraging news for cloud providers looking to increase their offerings with even more forward-thinking solutions.

However, while the speed gained by accessing a local data centre will improve the ability of a business to get online quickly after an attack or downtime, it is not the only consideration. Businesses still need to carefully consider critical aspects such as cost and return on investment, uptime of mission-critical data, and the quality of local support they will receive before making a purchasing decision. But, this news is another key moment for the development of digital business in South Africa, and one I encourage businesses to investigate further as they plan their digital journeys.