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Google invests in infrastructure to take on AWS, Azure

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 02 Sept 2022

Google plans to establish a data centre in South Africa, confirming it is looking to invest in launching a cloud infrastructure region in the medium- to long-term.

The local data centre region will support Google Cloud customers and house data from across the continent, according to the search engine giant.

Google owns and operates 21 data centres around the world, with the latest data centres having opened this year in Dallas, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Milan, Italy; and Madrid, Spain, among others.

The local plans come as the tech giant officially unveiled its Equiano submarine internet cable in Cape Town yesterday – a massive initiative in which Google has invested $1 billion (R17 billion).

Africa’s highest-capacity subsea internet cable, which landed at Melkbosstrand, north of Cape Town on 8 August, starts in Western Europe and runs along the West Coast of Africa, between Portugal and SA. Branching units along the way can be used to extend connectivity to additional African countries.

The cable will improve internet speeds and reduce data prices by between 16% and 21%, and help to support the growth of the digital economy in Africa, says Google.

During an interview with ITWeb, Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director for Google South Africa, said opening an infrastructure region in SA forms part of the tech giant’s broader vision to digitise Africa.

“We are at a point where the plan to establish a data centre region in South Africa is going to happen and these things take about two years to materialise. We compete with the best in the world, and a big part of being competitive is about investing in infrastructure,” explained Dr Mokoena.

“In the kind of space we are operating in, we have to have a data centre – we are dealing with data and we have cloud customers that rely on us for data-related services – so data centres definitely make sense, and in the medium- to long-term those plans have to come on stream.”

Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director for Google South Africa.
Dr Alistair Mokoena, country director for Google South Africa.

In 2019, Google told ITWeb it had no plans to establish a cloud region or data centre in Africa, but was excited to get into the African market "at some point".

The Google Cloud platform, however, has been available locally for years, and Google Cloud services and support are provided through its partner network, which includes Digicloud Africa, Saicom, Opennetworks and Dotmodus in SA.

Over the last few years, Africa has seen a meteoric rise in data centres, with SA hosting over 50 active data centre locations by June 2022, according to a study by law firm DLA Piper in SA.

This, as data demand and cloud adoption continue to cause a dramatic surge in traffic.

The booming demand for data centre access on the African continent, and specifically South Africa, has seen Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, Africa Data Centres, Acronis, Oracle and Dimension Data, among others, opening data centres on local shores.

Google Cloud is considered one of the top three cloud service providers globally, with Microsoft Azure and AWS leading the race.

IDC estimates public cloud services adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa will accelerate at a compound annual growth rate of 25% year-on-year between 2020 and 2025, with this momentum expected to continue.

Connecting the marginalised

Google’s cloud business provides organisations across the globe with cloud services to help build high-performing, secure and scalable applications, and support them with disaster recovery, cost reduction and remote working requirements.

In June, Google announced it had selected Africa Data Centres as its first location for a Google Cloud Interconnect in Africa.

According to Dr Mokoena, Google’s cloud business has seen much growth in Africa and continues to see an escalating demand for cloud services from African organisations.

“Google as a hyperscaler has had a presence in Africa for a while. We have big cloud customers that we serve and this [the data centre plan] is about increasing our capacity to serve these customers.While I can't share market share-related statistics, Google Cloud is a sustainable business that keeps growing in Africa.

“If you look at the evolution of data storage from servers to cloud technology, it’s clear that cloud technology presents infinite possibilities for African businesses. Governments are talking about implementing cloud data policies and business demand for cloud is on a consistent increase.”

In the long-term, Google is looking at establishing data centres across the African continent, he continues.

Google is currently opening a Product Development Centre inNairobi, Kenya, which will create African products and also export software products from Africa to the rest of the world. To efficiently provide services from the centre, Google is currently recruiting 100 software developers and engineers, he adds.

The company has committed millions of rands to support small businesses in Africa through the Africa Investment Fund, as well as by investing $3 million (R51.4 million) in the Black Founders Fund. It has also committed to train 10 million youth in digital skills over the next five years.

Data centres will eventually spread across the continent. “We like to think of it as cloud regions. If you look at the opportunity to serve Africa, it shows you how much room there is. The continent has 1.3 billion inhabitants and yet only 380 million have internet access. This means there are more than 900 million Africans who are not on the internet. So it is our job as an ecosystem to ensure we don't leave anybody behind in the digital inclusion journey,” he concludes.