Avid followers of my twitter stream (do those actually exist?) will have noticed that I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week for a couple of days. I posted a few updates about the positive nature of the culture in South Africa, but I wanted to give a bit more detail than is practical in a few 140 character bursts, so I thought I would write a short post to elaborate.
So, what’s going on in South Africa as far as EMC is concerned, and more specifically as far as the Service Provider market is concerned?
The first thing to say is that for a European, your first visit to the country will be a real eye-opener. I was there for my first visit a couple of years ago for EMC Forum, also in Johannesburg. That was my first visit to Africa, and also my first visit to an EMC Forum, so it was all new for me. It’s a cliche, but when you land in South Africa, you get the definite feeling that you’re not in Kansas any more.
Two things really shocked me on that first visit. The first was the sheer pace of the renewal and development in the country. There was tangible progress everywhere. From the huge social housing construction projects that I saw as I travelled around the city as the government seeks to provide basic housing and services for all citizens, through to the visible development and reported growth in the economy as both local South African businesses and global multi-national organisations invested in the country to create a stable foothold in the rapidly growing regional economy in the southern half of Africa. There was a real buzz about this country.
The second was the state of cloud adoption in the country. I don’t think this is necessarily unique to South Africa as I suspect that many other ‘emerging’ markets will show similar characteristics, but there’s a definite sense that some the stages, or maybe phases, of the technological development that we have seen in the developed western economies are being entirely skipped. For example in internet access, the first deployments in some countries are being built directly on LTE-delivered broadband without ever bothering with fixed broadband, or the joys of 56k analog modem connections for that matter.
There are parallels in corporate IT. As the many small businesses in South Africa begin to adopt IT for collaboration or business process automation, they are jumping directly to cloud delivered services, often to mobile devices, without ever investing in ‘traditional’ on-premise IT systems and infrastructure.
On the face of it, these conditions would be ideal for the adoption of the kind of cloud services that we have access to in Western Europe and of course North America, but there is one issue that has traditionally been a barrier to the adoption of Internet-delivered cloud services in South Africa.
It’s this; whichever way you look at it, South Africa is not particularly close to either Europe or the US and until recently network connectivity to and from the country has been capacity constrained and therefore relatively expensive. This is being addressed through the deployment of additional subsea capacity, most notably on WACS, the West African Cable System. This is a subsea fibre optic route that has been laid in the Atlantic off the west coast of the continent and runs from Europe terminating at a cable landing station in South Africa.
The high cost of international connectivity has been compounded through the relative (again in European or US terms) lack of competition in the domestic telecommunications market. This means that bandwidth costs within South Africa have until recently been ten to twelve times those in the more competitive Western European market.
The effect of these factors has been to hold open a window during which local IT-as-a-Service providers have launched service offerings delivered specifically for the South African market. Some have won significant market share as a result.
All that background neatly illustrates why we’re committing resources and investment in developing this market. Service Provider adoption is at least keeping pace with Western Europe, but the over-the-top (OTT) providers that are present in Western Europe and delivering services over the internet (hence the name) are disadvantaged here. So if we develop strong partnerships with local Service Providers, we can help them carve a niche with services based on our products and it’s a win-win.
This should give away the purpose of my visit last week – to meet with several our key Service Provider partners in the country and give them an update on what EMC is doing with technology for Service Providers and how this can give them a competitive advantage and enable them to build a strong position in a rapidly developing market.
These SP-specific discussions were wrapped up in a much larger event that EMC was running in South Africa; quite literally taking our briefing centre from Cork in the Republic of Ireland ‘on the road’ to four cities in South Africa over a five day period and meeting a huge number of customers and partners in the process.
I’m sure others involved in the whole ‘EBC-on-tour’ program will be blogging about that, but suffice to say that in five days, our team of around twenty speakers and support staff met with as many South African customers and partners as they would over a six year period, were we asking the customers to visit EMC’s Cork facility. The whole program was nothing less than a resounding success and the feedback has been superb from both the customers and partners that attended and the internal stakeholders sponsoring the event.
Looking forward to EMC Forum Johannesburg in August!