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Data centres, submarine cables drive Andile Ngcaba to the 'edge'

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 10 May 2022
Andile Ngcaba, chairman of Convergence Partners.
Andile Ngcaba, chairman of Convergence Partners.

Businessman Andile Ngcaba’s investment management firm Convergence Partners is looking to disrupt Africa’s edge computing market.

The company is now eagerly awaiting the landing of submarine cables on the African continent to fully exploit the market.

In an interview with ITWeb last week, Ngcaba, who is now based in Silicon Valley, said the sprawling data centres in South Africa and the rest of Africa present significant opportunities for edge computing to thrive.

The interview followed Convergence Partners company inq. last week reaching an agreement to acquire 100% of Syrex, a provider of hyper-converged cloud technology solutions in SA, for an undisclosed amount.

Edge computing is a distributed computing paradigm that brings computation and data storage closer to the sources of data. From a performance standpoint, edge computing is able to deliver much faster response times.

According to Markets and Markets, the edge computing market is expected to grow from $36.5 billion in 2021, to $87.3 billion by 2026, at a compound annual growth rate of 19%.

Market research firms Forrester and Gartner have forecast that edge computing will become mainstream this year, taking advantage of 5G, the internet of things (IOT) and cloud-native software.

Reaching hyper-scale

Inq. is one of the leading edge computing technology companies in Africa. The Convergence Partners-owned firm connects over 1 200 corporations across nine African countries.

According to Ngcaba, the company is set to expand into more African countries as it looks to extend its footprint.

He explained the merger with Syrex will result in more job hires across the continent.

Also speaking during the interview, David Heserlman, MD of Syrex, said the coming of hyper-scalers such as Microsoft and Amazon Web Services to SA presents an opportunity for edge computing, as well as the inq.-Syrex merger.

He believes the growth of IOT applications will also spur the edge computing market.

Of late, there has been a flurry of activity in SA’s data centre space. As data demand and cloud adoption continue to cause a dramatic surge in traffic, data centres are becoming increasingly important on the continent, with more companies migrating components of their IT infrastructure into the cloud.

According to Ngcaba, the imminent arrival of subsea cables will also result in the jump in data traffic in Africa, further giving impetus to the edge computing service providers.

These include the Google-funded Equiano cable, as well as the other one being bankrolled by the 2Africa Consortium.

However, he did not disclose how the company will capitalise on the landing of these cables, preferring to say: “Watch this space.”

Convergence Partners-backed broadband infrastructure company CSquared and Google in March announced the landing of the Equiano subsea cable system in Lomé, Togo, marking the cable’s first stop along Africa’s Atlantic coast.

The Equiano cable will run from Portugal along the West Coast of Africa – connecting Europe to Togo, Nigeria, Namibia, SA and St Helena.

CSquared is the landing partner in Togo for the cable system, while Convergence Partners is an investor in the Seacom undersea cable.

Connectivity on speed

Commenting on edge computing developments in Africa, Jon Tullett, senior research manager for cloud/IT services at the IDC, says edge computing is more typically a function of local data centre operations, served by local data centre interconnect and cross-connect networks.

“So it’s the growth of investment in data centre facilities that’s more relevant in boosting edge applications, but better international connectivity does spur adoption of data centre services; it’s all related,” says Tullett, referencing the connectivity that will be brought by the subsea cables.

David Herselman, managing director of Syrex.
David Herselman, managing director of Syrex.

Data centre investment presents opportunities for edge computing, but the growing opportunities within edge computing are, in turn, a big part of the investment strategies behind data centre construction, he adds.

Similar points apply within hosted private cloud solutions, for often quite similar reasons, Tullett explains.

Edge computing has a lot to offer, but like cloud, it’s not perfect for every scenario. “Very low-latency applications, heavy analytic processing close to the source, scaling out application deployment across delivery networks, sensitivities regarding data sovereignty…these are the sorts of characteristics which indicate an application may be well-suited for edge deployment.”

He notes IOT is a good example of a broad spectrum of applications which often benefit.

Edging over to the user

Africa Analysis telecoms analyst Dobek Pater says the new cables will provide additional capacity and are likely to result in a further decrease in the price of international bandwidth.

To this extent, he points out that international connectivity will certainly not present constraints in terms of accommodating the expected increase in traffic from the introduction of new technologies, such as 5G and IOT, which are expected to generate significantly more traffic.

According to Pater, much of the traffic nowadays, especially in SA, is domestic rather than international.

“Therefore, it is just as important to have a very good domestic backbone network. With some of the ICT service providers, including data centre and cloud companies, expanding their operations across Africa, subsea cable systems will play an increasingly important role in connecting such operations across different countries or regions in Africa.”

While Pater also believes the growth of the data centre market will propel the edge computing market, he notes: “We will also need to see the build-out of smaller data centres or aggregation nodes closer to where the traffic is generated or where apps are consumed for proper edge computing.

“This will become increasingly important with applications requiring low latency and quick turn-around times for data computing or analysis and returning information to the user.

“The edge of the network needs to move closer to the end-user. The data centre environment will be segmented into three – large national or regional data centres, mainly for large-scale storage of data, hosting of cloud environment; smaller data centres distributed regionally, which will aggregate traffic regionally and redirect it; as well as small data centres, such as containers, close to the network edge where the fast turn-around data computing requirements will be addressed.”

Concluding, Pater urges African organisations to work with their ICT service providers to determine how edge computing can best serve their requirements.