Software giant Microsoft today announced the opening of two data centre regions in SA.
The company also announced a "multi-million-dollar" investment to create economic opportunities for SA through an Equity Equivalent Investment Programme (EEIP).
The unveiling of the two cloud data centres - one in Johannesburg and another in Cape Town - was made by Microsoft SA's newly-appointed MD Lillian Barnard at the company's Johannesburg offices.
She said the data centres ensure world-class cloud infrastructure that will power emerging cloud, artificial intelligence and edge computing innovations across the continent.
Also in attendance was communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who welcomed the investment by Microsoft in the hyper-scale data centres.
Ndabeni-Abrahams believes the data centre facilities position South Africa as one of the leading ICT markets on the African continent.
The opening of the data centres comes after the US-based software giant missed its own deadline to open the facilities at the end of last year.
In May 2017, Microsoft announced it would bring two data centres to SA, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg. Many African companies currently rely on cloud services delivered from outside the continent.
"The combination of Microsoft's global cloud infrastructure with the new regions in Africa will increase economic opportunity for organisations in Africa, as well as connect businesses across the globe through improved access to cloud and Internet services," said Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice-president of Azure Networking at Microsoft.
"In addition, the availability of Microsoft's cloud services delivered from Africa will mean local companies can securely and reliably move their businesses to the cloud while meeting compliance requirements," he added.
With this announcement, Microsoft has become the first global provider to deliver cloud services from data centres on the continent.
The company has announced 54 cloud regions worldwide. Azure is the first of Microsoft's cloud services to be delivered from the new data centres in South Africa.
Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based productivity solution, is anticipated to be available by the third quarter of calendar year 2019, and Dynamics 365, the next generation of intelligent business applications, is anticipated in the fourth quarter, the company says.
Microsoft's rival Amazon Web Services is also looking to open data centres in SA next year, while Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei started offering its Huawei Cloud commercial services in SA yesterday.
In her keynote address, Ndabeni-Abrahams said Microsoft's investment is important particularly within the context of providing opportunities for small and medium businesses to access affordable data management and cloud services; as well as for "digi-techs" to leverage this infrastructure to provide new innovative digital services.
"The investment by Microsoft is, therefore, a step in the right direction, particularly as it will enable the adoption of cloud services by SMMEs in general and support those enterprises that participate in the ICT sector access to infrastructure to provide new innovative digital services.
"We do not congratulate Microsoft because it is fashionable to do so at an occasion such as this; however, it is our fervent belief that to appropriately position South Africa to flourish in the 4IR [fourth industrial revolution] era, investment in infrastructure, skills, innovation and small businesses is a necessary imperative that we ought to harness.
"I must mention that this requires harmonisation of efforts and a more concerted collaboration between government, public entities, the private sector, academia and civil society, among others."
In 2011, as part of its transformation approach, Microsoft committed to investing a percentage of the total revenue of the South African operation into its EEIP each year, over seven years, said Barnard, speaking about the EEIP.
She added this investment was ringfenced for the support of local independent software vendors (ISVs).
She revealed the Microsoft EEIP has evolved to include investment in technology solutions in agriculture and digital transformation in manufacturing - just two sectors where key government priorities and Microsoft focus areas overlap.
Microsoft's EEIP is also funding skills development among South Africa's young software developers, making them more employable, and there will be continued investment in the ISV sector to strengthen local South African intellectual property as well as accelerate their growth in the global market, she noted.
"The evolved EEIP demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to digital transformation, skills development and experiential learning, as well as the enablement of innovation and technological advancement in South Africa. It economically benefits the country and demonstrates that we are investing in the right initiatives to ensure the inclusion, diversity and success in the digital economy," Barnard noted.
Barnard said both the evolved EEIP and the new Microsoft data centres were indicative of how important South Africa was for Microsoft.
"We are already seeing great examples of how Microsoft's investment in local innovation is having an impact on many of the partnerships we have with our customers in both the private and public sector. This will accelerate following today's announcements.
"We believe that our investment is in the spirit of Thuma Mina and being part of South Africa's new dawn, and it will mean more access to technologies and skills for many more people in this country."