Rowen Grierson, Nutanix West, East & Central Africa regional director

The rate of adoption of cloud-based platforms on the African continent is growing fast. This is according to Rowen Grierson, regional director at Nutanix West, East & Central Africa. 

Grierson was speaking at the virtual Africa Press Roundtable that took place on the 9 September 2020. The roundtable was part of the  Global.NEXT conference, the company's signature annual event, taking place this week from the 8th to 11 September.

Nutanix also launched a portfolio of products and partnerships at conference and Africa Press Briefing outlined what these products and partnerships mean for their clients on the African continent.

The portfolio included HCI software innovations that the company said would deliver significant innovations to the datacenter and cloud markets; Karbon – a Kubernetes-based Platform-as-a-Service for the multicloud era; a partnership with Microsoft Azure that offers a seamless hybrid experience, and the Elevate Partner Program, which the company said offers their partners simple, enhanced services and investments to grow their business.

Grierson noted that Nutanix began operations in South Africa more than five years ago, and the West  and Central Africa operations started just under two years ago. In those two years, Nutanix  observed that a lot of companies on the content were on legacy systems across Nigeria, Ghana and other countries. 

The public cloud providers typically wouldn't have data centres in-country, he said. The  customers would choose certain applications and then accept the high latency, or host one or two applications in Europe or potentially South Africa.

“Now, it's actually open opportunity for a lot of local providers to set up local cloud-type or public cloud type services,” he added. He said that the change in the market is new, “but it's super exciting.”

Grierson added that when looking at adoption trends across Africa, Ghana and Ethiopia stand out for him. Conventional business wisdom had seen companies looking to set up operations on the African continent start out by setting setting up operations in West Africa, like in Nigeria and perhaps Kenya, he said.

“The interesting thing was, I actually flipped it around and started out in East Africa,” Grierson said. He added that the Eastern region of Africa had been incredible in terms of adoption and innovation. “You'll see a lot of providers, building new tier-three, or even tier-four data centers completely off grid and  these guys are actually starting to do well,” he said.

Nutanix said it was working with them on building distaster recovery (DR) as a service and desktop as a service. “All these things are very exciting for some of the organizations there. As one piece of a very complex, costly development, it's almost like getting an insurance policy and these guys are getting into that space,” he said.

One country that stood out for Grierson was Ethiopia, whose economy he called very exciting. “We've seen a lot of things happen there in the public sector and banking perspective and there's good adoption of cloud. “I think it's just going to keep keep growing, he said

Another country that stood out for Grierson was Kenya, which he said had “always been a mover when it comes to it.” Ghana was also quick in its adoption of cloud. Many countries stood on the sidelines to watch cloud developments on the continent, to see how it all panned out, much like what happened with mobile money, where Kenya set the ball rolling and then everyone got on board once they finally mPesa succeed. He added that there are exciting adoptions taking place in  Nigeria, he said finally picked up its adoption pace too.

Paul Ruinaard, regional sales director at Nutanix Sub-Saharan Africa added that over the last eight years of cloud evolution, the market required a huge education to migrate into the cloud.

Knowledge from this education helped companies decide on how they want to adopt the cloud: did they want to adopt the cloud in its entirety, or do they have legacy systems that made it more sensible adopt a hybrid cloud? “Now to migrate to the hybrid cloud, or at least to migrate to the tools that enable the hybrid cloud, is another educational ambition,' he added.

Implications for telcos

Grierson observed that traditional telco in Africa previously invested in GPRS, 3G, 4G and LTE infrastructures. “That was constant innovation. The problem is, they can't just switch off some of the older technologies, and the challenge they face is  compression of that annual revenue per user. If you speak to them, they're always looking at two key things, with one being, the reduction of the OPEX as a reduction of costs, and the second one being establishing additional revenue streams,” he said.

One key way for telcos to create some additional revenue streams was through value added services and  uniting services onto those traditional connectivity contracts, and a a lot of telcos were building these services, he said.

Nutanix was evangelising

Grierson acknowledged that Nutanix had been evangelising on the benefits of the cloud in the African market.  However, customers have also independently expressed interest, and have been approaching Nutanix for assistance about their migration plans, he said.

“We have been engaging with them at the moment to provide that same flexibility, scalability and efficiencies, and where by creating a platform you can now easily manage workloads or move your workloads around,” he adds.

Ruinaard added that a number of Fortune 500, Fortune 2000 companies and large pan-African companies in the region were running Nutanix on their colocations. Customers are reducing Rackspace by 80% and so less footprint, the less power consumption which lead to cost savings, he said.

“We're able to future-proof these companies by setting them up cloud-based environments so that they have the option in future to move their workloads, depending on costs, performance, etc,”  Grierson said.

He cited an example where one of their clients was reducing the time it takes processing tasks. Something that used to take them eight hours down to twenty minutes, Grierson said.

“They've seen the profits for their company, and just from being able to keep their systems up and running, they are seeing a lot of cost savings on power and cooling and all these things,” he said.

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