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Goliath turns 'David' as ex-BCX exec takes on AWS, Azure

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 22 Jul 2022
Mervyn Goliath, CEO of BGPAfrica.
Mervyn Goliath, CEO of BGPAfrica.

Former BCX executive Mervyn Goliath, who recently acquired a controlling stake in boutique data communications network company BGPAfrica, is looking to take on cloud computing giants Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure on South African turf.

This, after BGPAfrica was recently appointed channel partner of Alibaba Cloud, which Goliath says is a first for the country.

Goliath, who previously served as managing executive for BCX Data Networks, bought a controlling stake in BGPAfrica in June, the same month the company was appointed as an Alibaba Cloud partner.

Lood Van Der Merwe, BGPAfrica founder, retains the remaining stake in the company.

“BGPAfrica was originally established by Lood Van Der Merwe in 2005 and has operated successfully as a boutique data communications network company with a highly-selective bias towards taking on large, complex legacy network transformation projects,” Goliath tells ITWeb via e-mail.

“What started out as a small consulting company soon transitioned into a strategic and trusted partner to some of the largest banking, telecommunications, managed services and security enterprises, with a singular focus on data networks.”

Goliath says soon after acquiring the controlling stake in the company, BGPAfrica set about obtaining a B-BBEE level two status for the new entity, with the view of extending its market reach and the service value proposition “further up the stack”, into the cloud computing space.

“This was made possible when BGPAfrica was selected as the first channel partner for Alibaba Cloud services on their entry into the South African market,” he says.

“We have also concluded a strategic partner agreement with an international Alibaba Cloud channel partner who brings execution capability in digital transformation, robotic process automation, cloud services, blockchain, UI/UX [user interface/user experience] and DevOps-as-a-service to fortify our foray into the market.”

Crowded clouds

With Alibaba in his corner, Goliath says he has now turned into the biblical David in his bid to take on hyperscalers such as AWS and Microsoft Azure, which have entrenched their presence in the South African market.

Both AWS and Microsoft have spent big to establish local data centre regions in SA, as more local organisations continue migrating their workloads to the cloud.

However, Alibaba Cloud is still to make in-roads into the local market as the cloud “land grab” continues.

According to Statista’s cloud market report, in Q4 2021, AWS was the leading cloud computing service provider with a global market share of 33%, followed by Azure (21%), Google Cloud (10%), Alibaba Cloud (6%), IBM Cloud (4%), Salesforce (3%), Tencent Cloud (3%) and Oracle (2%).

BGPAfrica’s target market includes large and medium enterprise customers, organisations with on-premises legacy data centres, as well as SMEs.

“We often get asked the question: “Is there still room for yet another cloud services provider in the market?’ The question of locality, data sovereignty, data residency, network latency and local presence also comes up all the time,” Goliath says.

“These are no doubt important questions that we believe have unique relevance on a case by case basis. What we mean by this is that there are enterprises, particularly those who initially moved workloads to offshore hyperscaler availability zones, who have become accustomed to having their workloads in those remote zones – running successfully and well within SLA [service level agreement] requirements.”

Equally, he points out Alibaba Cloud provides services out of a Frankfurt data centre with measured network latency that is absolutely on par.

“Yes, it is true there will always be a penchant for a local data centre presence and we will definitely see a continuation of availability zones here in South Africa, including local presence from Alibaba Cloud – watch this space.”

According to Goliath, BGPAfrica’s strategy is to enter the market, which is entrenched, established and invested in AWS and Azure, by continuing to work selectively with customers that have a strategic long-term vision on what the world will look like beyond the present incumbent hyperscale offerings.

He believes technology will continue to evolve, and new entrants in any entrenched market have both the benefit of hindsight and the need to innovate in dimensions that go beyond their predecessors; not only to catch up but also to surpass market incumbents.

“We want to be forerunners in the adoption of future-looking cloud value propositions like Alibaba Cloud that promises to be a formidable complementary strategy for forward-thinking enterprises. It won’t be easy but we are a company founded on the principles of thoughtful and contemplative engagement, and we will continue with this careful and patient approach until the inevitable flywheel of change comes around – and we believe it will come.”

The China principle

“We have taken on the challenge to join the incumbent hyperscalers in carving out market share after looking at the success of Alibaba Cloud in the Asian market and how it underpinned the success of the online B2B marketplace in China – a business envisioned and founded by Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma back in 1999, where buyers and sellers around the world connect and carry out transactions seamlessly and securely – all made possible by the very same Alibaba Cloud services hyperscaler offering.

“If it works in China, it will work here – the scalability and the performance of the Alibaba Cloud platform are unprecedented and unmatched. We want a piece of that success.”

According to Goliath, cloud computing adoption is still too slow in the South African market.

A recent study by market research firm IDC found organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa are two years behind their global counterparts in their public and private cloud journey, and up to five years behind in the deployment of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.

“We still see customers who are not yet ready to make a full commitment to a cloud strategy. Some are simply not ready and have systems in the form of infrastructure and workloads that are just not cloud suitable.

“We see a lot of these legacy deployments, especially in the network arena and customers themselves referring to on-premises and data centre hosted platforms as ‘fragile’ and ‘too risky’ to migrate.”

He points out there is a danger and great risk that these legacy environments will compromise the agility that businesses need to be responsive to change – the kind of change that may determine their survival and relevance in a market that is already highly-globalised and becoming increasingly digitally transformed.

Goliath notes the skills shortage is also a big barrier to adoption. “The market forces driven by the lack of skills are what in turn drive partnerships with experienced global players. There must be a commitment to ensuring skills transfer to the local market, and we want to do this.”